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Full text of "A book of the running brook: and of still waters"

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LIBRARY 

UN4VEfvS1TY OF I 
V CALIFORNIA J 




A Book of the Running Brook 
And of Still Waters 



LADY COLIN CAMPBELL 



O. JUDD CO., DAVID \V. JUDD, Pres't. 

751, BROADWAY 
1886 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2007 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 



http://www.archive.org/details/bookofrunningbroOOcamprich 



CsiJ 



TO 
W. H. P. AND W. M. 

THIS LITTLE BOOK IS INSCRIBED 

AS A SLIGHT TOKEN OF THE AFFECTION 

OF 

THE AUTHOR. 



A cold, sweet, silver life, wrapped in round waves, 
Quickened with touches of transporting fear." 



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PREFACE. 




T the time of the Fisheries Exhibition, 
three years ago, pubHc attention 
was much attracted to the subjects 
of fish culture and fish supply. There were 
sixpenny fish-dinners ; and fishes in every stage 
and shape, alive and dead, in salt water and in 
pickle-bottles, were the subject of the day. 
One might have exclaimed with Mercutio, — 
"Oh, flesh! flesh ! how art thou fishified ! " 

The papers were full of a wordy corre- 



PREFACE. 



spondence on the merits and demerits of accli- 
matization of various foreign fishes. But the 
fish craze, like other crazes, ran its course, and 
after a few months was practically forgotten. 

Yet surely a question of such vital importance 
as the supply of cheap and wholesome food to 
a vast population merited a better fate than 
consignment to the waters of oblivion. Is it 
not a ghastly mockery that in a country sur- 
rounded by seas teeming with fish there should 
be found utter destitution in our great cities ? 
The expenses of deep-sea fishing, the boats, the 
nets, the trawling gear, the risks attendant upon 
stormy weather, and a thousand other excuses 
are all made the most of by the " Fish Ring " 
to keep up the exorbitant price of fish in the 
market. Fish being creatures that cost nothing 



PREFACE. vii 



to " raise," as the Americans say, ought to be 
food within the reach of the very poorest, and 
it is therefore only by enlarging on the expenses 
of its capture that a colourable excuse is given 
for its present price. If, therefore, good fish 
can be had in large quantities without any out- 
lay of capital for fishing gear, and without any 
of the dangers which deep-sea fishermen have 
to face, there might surely be found landlords, 
both philanthropic and shrewd, who would 
turn their attention to the question, and make 
use of their ponds and lakes for the benefit 
both of their own empty pockets and of the 
emptier stomachs of their poorer brethren. 

It was in the hope of fixing further attention 
on this neglected wealth of English waters, that 
a series of articles was undertaken during the 



PREFACE. 



winter of 1885-6, for the Editor of the Saturday 
Review, With his permission they are here 
collected for re-issue in handier form. 



GERTRUDE CAMPBELL. 



2, Victoria Mansions, S.W. 
May, 1886. 




CONTENTS. 

PAGE 

Preface v 

CHAPTER I. 
Eels and Elvers i 

CHAPTER II. 
Water Wolves 21 

CHAPTER III. 
Carp Culture 37 

CHAPTER IV. 
Cousins of the Carp ..... 51 

CHAPTER V. 
Perch . . . • 69 



X CONTENTS. 

CHAPTER VI. 

PAGE 

Small Fry— 1 85 

Small Fry— II 96 

CHAPTER VII. 

Fish-ponds— 1 109 

Fish-ponds— II 119 




" Hath not old custom made this life more sweet 
Than that of painted pomp ? Are not these woods 
More free from peril than the envious court ? 
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam, 
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang 
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind. 
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body, 
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say : 
♦ This is no flattery : these are counsellors 
That feelingly persuade me what I am.* 
Sweet are the uses of adversity, 
Which, like the toad ugly and venomous, 
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head. 
And this our life, exempt from public haunt, 
Finds tongues in trees, books in the runjiing brooks., 
Sermons in stones, and good in everything. 
I would not change it." 

As You Like It. 



EELS AND ELVERS 




CHAPTER I. 




EELS AND ELVERS. 

ELS are among the mysteries of 
this world. In spite of the way 
in which Dame Science has per- 
sistently poked her nose into 
most things, and has harried 
them and laid them bare, she has succeeded 
in discovering but little about eels and their 
mode of life. However, it would be rash to 
go as far in our confession of ignorance as 
a writer recently did, and declare *'that we 
know next to nothing of eels beyond the 
periods of their migration." If we knew nothing 
more than that, we should indeed know but 
little, as in many places eels never migrate at 
all, but grow fat and flourish from year to year 
in the pond or lake where they were born, 
without ever leaving it to seek the brackish 



B 2 



4 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

water of estuaries which some authorities deem 
necessary to their existence. The same writer 
asserts that the distinction between *' shovel- 
nosed " and " pointed-nosed " eels is purely 
" fanciful," and accounts for the difference by 
saying that " most fish develop a shovel-nose 
when they are working up stream." If this 
were the case, an eel would have a shovel nose 
in the spring and a sharp nose in the autumn. 
Such a capability of altering his features would 
be certainly open to envy ; but, unfortunately 
for this theory, the structure of the two fish is 
materially different, and the single fact that the 
shovel or broad-nosed eel has 115 vertebrae, 
while his sharp-nosed relative possesses only 
113, is sufficient to prove the fallacy of the idea 
that the two fish are identical. 

Of fresh-water eels, as apart from their mighty 
cousin the Conger, there are three distinct kinds 
— the sharp-nosed eel, the broad-nosed or frog- 
mouthed eel, and the snig. Of these three, the 
sharp-nosed eel is both the largest fish and the 
best eating, though some prefer the snig eel as 
having a superior flavour. The snig, however, 
in spite of its excellence, has not the same value 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 



as the sharp-nosed eel ; for it seldom, if ever, 
attains more than half a pound in weight. The 
sharp-nosed eel, on the contrary, attains an 
enormous size. One on record taken in the 
Medway, not far from Rochester, weighed 
34 lbs., measured 6 ft. in length, and had a 
girth of 25 ins. Another eel, taken in Kent, 
weighed 40 lbs., and measured 5 ft. 9 ins. 
Yarrell speaks of having seen at Cambridge the 
preserved skins of two which had weighed 
together 50 lbs. j the heaviest 27 lbs., the other 
23 lbs. But these instances, though not to be 
regarded as apocryphal, are still very excep- 
tional ; and a fair average weight for sharp- 
nosed eels is 6 lbs. Eels of even 10 lbs. weight 
are hot common, and Mr. Frank Buckland 
speaks of one of that size as being the largest he 
had ever seen. 

From time immemorial eels have been much 
esteemed by epicures, more perhaps in ancient 
days than they are now. Both Aristotle and 
Aristophanes mention eels in terms of high 
praise ; indeed, the former may be considered 
to have known more about eels than the con- 
temporary we have already referred to, for he 



6 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

recognized at least two distinct species of eels. 
By the Egyptians eels were regarded with great 
abhorrence as the embodiment of an evil 
demon ; but other nations did not share the 
prejudice, for the Boeotians, who were cele- 
brated for their eels, used them as sacred offer- 
ings. Misson, in his travels, tells of a vow 
made by the inhabitants of Terracina, a seaport 
of Italy, when besieged by the Turks. They 
vowed to offer twenty thousand eels a year to 
Sl Benedict if he would deliver them from their 
peril. Whether a fond memory of stewed eels 
touched the saint we do not know, but the 
siege was raised, and the Benedictine monks 
got their eels every year from the virtuous and 
grateful inhabitants. The Venerable Bede 
mentions the eel-fisheries of Britain in his 
" History of the Anglo-Saxon Church," and 
Thomas a Becket, when he travelled in France, 
" expended the large sum of a hundred shillings 
in a dish of eels." Any one who could now sit 
down to cope with a dish of eels of the value 
of five pounds would indeed have gastronomic 
capabilities likely to make an alderman die of 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 



envy. But in the eating of eels, whether plen- 
tiful or scarce, it is well to remember the advice 
given in the ancient medical book entitled 
" Regimen Sanitatis Salerniae : " — 

'* Who knows not physic should be nice and choice 
In eating eels, because they hurt the voice. 
Both eels and cheese, without good store of wine 
Well drunk with them, offend at any time." 

For a long period the most extraordinary 
theories were accepted regarding the birth of 
young eels. Aristotle believed they sprang 
from the mud (wherein he was not far wrong, 
as eels deposit their spawn in mud and 
sand); Pliny maintained that young eels de- 
veloped from fragments separated from the 
parents' bodies by rubbing against rocks ; others 
supposed that they proceeded from the carcases 
of animals ; Helmont declared that they came 
from May-dew, and gave the following recipe 
for obtaining them : — " Cut up two turfs covered 
with May-dew, and lay one upon the other, the 
grassy side inwards, and then expose them to 
the heat of the sun ; in a few hours there will 
spring from them an infinite quantity of eels." 



8 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK : 

Of the somewhat leSs ancient superstition of 
one's childhood that horse-hairs cut up and 
deposited in water would turn into eels it is 
hardly necessary to speak, for who cannot re- 
member those unpleasant little bottles, erst 
used for medicine, which garnished the nursery, 
and in which the propagation of eels from 
horse-hair was carried on with the profound 
faith of childhood ? 

Eels generally shed their spawn in April; 
and, when not hindered, they almost invariably 
choose an estuary, where they scatter the spawn 
loosely in the sand or soil. But that an annual 
visit to the sea is by no means necessary to 
their existence is proved by the fact that many 
eels who inhabit inland ponds and lakes never 
go to the sea at all. A gentleman digging in 
the month of October in the gravel banks of the 
river Stour found the place " alive with young 
eels, some of them scarcely hatched, at the 
depth of from five to fifteen inches ;" and at one 
of the meetings of the British Association for the 
Advancement of Science a member stated that he 
had seen a considerable number of young eels rise 



. AND OF STILL WATERS. 9 

up through a small opening in the sand at the 
bottom of a small stream, the Ravensbourne. 
The greater number of eels, however, do visit 
the sea, and the " passing up " a river of the 
young eels is one of the most curious sights of 
natural history. 

Thjs passage of young eels is called eelfare on 
the banks of the Thames; and it has been 
thought by some that the term elver^ which on 
the banks of the Severn is used indiscriminately 
for all young eels, is a corruption of the word 
eelfare. In the Thames this eelfare takes place 
in the spring, in other rivers in the summer; 
and some idea of the numbers of these young 
eels, each about three inches long, may be 
gathered from the record of Dr. William Roots, 
who lived at Kingston in 1832. He calculated 
that from sixteen to eighteen hundred passed a 
given point in the space of one minute of time. 
These baby eels travel only by day and rest by 
night. In large and deep rivers, where they 
probably find the current strong, they form 
themselves into a closely compacted company, 
" a narrow but long-extended column," as it has 



lo A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

been described ; but in less formidable streams 
they abandon this arrangment, and travel, 
each one more or less at his own sweet will, near 
the bank. 

The perseverance of these little creatures in 
overcoming any obstructions they may encounter 
is quite extraordinary. The large fioodigates, 
sometimes twenty feet high, to be met with on 
the Thames, might be supposed sufficient to 
bar the progress of a fish the size of a darning- 
needle. But young eels have a wholesome 
idea that nothing can stop them ; consequently 
nothing does. As one writer says, speaking of 
the way in which they ascend flood-gates and 
suchlike barriers, " Those which die stick to the 
posts ; others which get a little higher meet 
with the same fate, until at last a sufficient 
layer of them is formed to enable the rest to 
overcome the difficulty of the passage." The 
mortality resulting from such " forlorn hopes " 
greatly helps to account for the difference in 
the number of young eels on their upward 
migration, and of those who return down stream 
in the autumn. In some places these baby 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 



eels are much sought after, and are formed into 
cakes, which are eaten fried. 

The term elver, which, as we have said, is in 
some places indiscriminately used to denote all 
young eels, in reality belongs only to the 
" transparent " eels, occasionally to be found 
among their more opaque brethren. These 
elvers are so transparent that most of the 
internal organs and the action of the heart and 
blood-vessels can easily be seen. They have 
been found with the characteristics of both 
sharp-nosed and broad-nosed eels ; and there 
is no particular season for their appearance, 
for they have been caught in winter and 
summer. In spite of their transparency, or 
rather on account of it, they have remained one 
of the many mysteries of the eel family. 

One of the greatest peculiarities possessed by 
eels is that they have a second heart situated in 
the extremity of their tails ; and, of course, in 
the transparent elvers the action of this heart 
can be more easily noted than in the ordinary 
eels. In all, however, its action is plainly 
manifest, especially if the fish has been out of 



12 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

water any time or is exhausted, a fact known 
to the street vendors of Hve eels, who therefore 
are careful to cover their eels with sand to hide 
the caudal pulsations. Dr. Marshall Hall, 
who in 1 83 1 discovered this secondary heart, 
says of it that "the action of this caudal 
heart is entirely independent of the pulmonic 
heart ; while the latter beats sixty, the former 
beats one hundred and sixty times in a minute. 
It continues for a very long time after the 
influence of the pulmonic heart is entirely re- 
moved." It is probably owing to this caudal heart 
that the eel's tail is so highly sensitive and so 
strong. Eels can use their tails almost like hands ; 
for instance, if confined to a tank or bucket, 
they will grasp the edge with this hand-like 
tail, and by its help lift themselves bodily over. 
Eels are very clean feeders ; if possible, they 
like their food alive, and in all cases it is most 
essential that it should be fresh. Even the 
slightest taint is too much for their keen sense 
of smell and taste. They are sometimes seen 
cropping the leaves of watercresses, and other 
aquatic plants, as they float about in the 
water; but as a rule their food is altogether 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 13 

animal. They are immense devourers of spawn 
of all kinds of fish. There are certain well- 
known spawning-grounds in the Norfolk 
Broads, where the roach and bream collect in 
vast numbers to spawn in the spring. To 
these grounds the eels follow in hundreds. Mr. 
Davies, in his pleasant book on " Norfolk 
Broads and Rivers," speaks of this, and adds : 
" You can hear the eels sucking away at the 
spawn in the weeds; and they gorge themselves 
to such an extent that they will lie motionless 
on their backs on the gravel, with distended 
stomachs -, and when caught by the bab they will 
frequently die during the night, instead of living 
for days, as an eel will otherwise do in a boat." 
There are a good many ways of catching 
eels ; the commonest, of course, being by the 
eel-bucks so often to be met with on the Thames. 
Eel-bucks intended to catch the sharp-nosed or 
frog-mouthed eels are set against the stream, 
and are set at night, as those two descriptions 
of eels feed and run only at night. The snig 
eel, which is chiefly found in Hampshire, feeds 
by day ; and fishermen have found by experi- 
ence that snigs are taken in the eel-bucks only 



14 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK : 

if they are set with the stream, instead of against 
it. In Norfolk, where immense quantities of 
eels are caught every year, the capture is 
mostly effected by eel-sets, which are nets set 
across the stream, and in which the sharp-nosed 
eel is the one almost invariably taken. 

Besides these eel-sets, however, the Norfolk 
Broadmen use *' babs," a mode of fishing which 
can hardly be called sport in any sense. The 
" bab," or " clod," as it is sometimes called, is 
a number of lobworms threaded on pieces of 
worsted, and all tied up in a bunch not unlike a 
small mop. The bab is then tied on to the end 
of a cord attached to a stout pole. The eel's 
teeth get entangled in the worsted as soon as 
he attempts to take the bab, and he can then 
be lifted out of the water into the boat, if the 
angler be in one, or else allowed to drop off the 
line into a pail, which the angler puts on the 
bank at a convenient distance from his standing- 
place. Norfolk " babbers " frequently catch 
four stone weight of eels to a boat per night, 
especially in the spawning-grounds. 

Night-lines also are much used for eels. 
These are long lines, weighted heavily at each 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 15 

end and in the middle, and garnished with baited 
hooks one yard apart. *' Sniggling," immortalized 
by Mr. Burnand in his " Happy Thoughts," 
is one of the most favourite ways of catching 
eels, while " Stitchering," a Hampshire method, 
is perhaps one of the most amusing, though the 
stitcherer probably catches fewer eels than any 
other eel-hunter. The only apparatus used is an 
old sickle, worn short and chipped so as to present 
something of a saw-like edge. This is tied 
firmly on to a light pole about twelve feet long. 
Armed with this the stitcherer betakes himself 
to the water meadows. In the wide deep 
drains used for irrigation eels abound ; and the 
object of the stitcherer is to thrust the sickle 
under the eel's body, and, with a sudden hoist, 
to land him on the bank, from which he is 
transferred to the bag. That you have every 
chance, when on a stitchering party, of having 
your eye poked out, or your ear sawn off, of 
course only adds the necessary amount of 
danger and pleasurable excitement, without 
which all sport is tame. 

Of all forms of eel capture, however, there is 
none to compare to spearing, of which there are 



i6 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

two methods. The Norfolkmen mostly use 
" picks " formed of four broad blades, spread 
out like a fan, between which the eels get 
wedged. These are mounted on long slender 
poles, to enable them to be thrust into the mud, 
where the " picker " notices the tell-tale bubbles 
rise, denoting the presence of "Anguilla." 
Eel-spearing of this kind takes place chiefly in 
winter, but there is another form of the sport 
called " sun-spearing," which is much sought 
after in the Irish loughs during the months of 
June and July. In the early sunny mornings 
at that time of the year, when the water seems 
to be principally composed of sunbeams, with a 
little hydrogen and oxygen added, the sun- 
spear er sallies forth in any little boat he can 
lay his hands on. Standing up in the bows, 
and, if alone, using his spear to propel the boat 
gently along, he steals over the crystal waters 
of the lough. Presently he sees the gleam of 
the " silver " eel as he lies quietly at length on 
the sandy bottom. The spearer takes aim ; 
there is a sudden " splitting of the atmosphere," 
as Mark Twain would say, a splash, and either 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 17 

Anguilla comes up writhing on the twelve close- 
set teeth of the sun-spear, or the spearer has 
taken a header into ten feet of water. If he is a 
tyro at the apparently simple art of sun-spearing, 
it may safely be prognosticated that, when he 
makes acquaintance with the eel he is after, the 
meeting will be more likely to take place under 
water than above it. 

Eels have the immense merit in the eyes of 
all careful people that they more than repay any 
cultivation bestowed upon them. There is 
always a demand for eels, and they seem never 
to be out of season. The London market is 
chiefly supplied from Holland, the eels being 
brought over alive in welled vessels. Queen 
Elizabeth gave a free mooring to these Dutch 
skoots, and this privilege has been taken 
advantage of up to the present time. The 
Dutch eels, however, are very much inferior in 
flavour to the English, and it seems, therefore, 
somewhat a pity that they should have almost a 
monopoly of the London Market. The Norfolk 
eels, caught in such huge quantities, are nearly 
all sent to Birmingham and the Black Country. 



1 8 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK. 

In Scotland eels are looked upon with abhor- 
rence, consequently eel fisheries may be said 
not to exist there. In Ireland, however, the eel 
fisheries are enormously valuable ; the eel weirs 
on the Erne are said to bring in five or six 
thousand pounds sterling a year. At Balliso- 
dare the eel fisheries were found to be greatly 
increased in value by the hanging of loosely- 
plaited ropes of straw or hay over any ob- 
structions likely to bar the course of the 
elvers up stream. The ropes act as ladders, up 
which the elvers safely climb, and the immense 
annual destruction we have already spoken of 
is thus averted. 

Eels cost but little to cultivate, never fail to 
find a good market, and are one of the richest 
and most nutritious forms of food possible to 
have. The late Frank Buckland showed his 
usual good sense when he declared that the 
English eel fisheries were not half developed, 
and that they deserved considerably more at- 
tention than they had hitherto got. That they 
should soon get this attention must be the hope 
of all those who do not like to see the good 
gifts of nature contemptuously thrown away. 



W A T E R- W O L V E S 




C 2 






CHAPTER II. 




WATER-WOLVES. 

F water-wolves had nothing more 
to recommend them than the 
possession of the same amiable 
characteristics of strength, fierce- 
ness, and voracity as those of their 
warm-blooded namesakes, they would by now 
be as near extinction as their four-footed 
prototypes. But the water-wolf or pike has 
one immense merit, which, in spite of his 
many vices, makes him worthy of even 
more attention than he usually obtains — 
he is a most toothsome morsel when he has 
made proper acquaintance with the culinary art. 
His merit was so well acknowledged in early 
times that that worthy monarch, Edward I., 
who saw no reason why his subjects should be 
left to the mercy of a " Fish Ring," and there- 



.22 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK : 

fore condescended to regulate the prices of the 
different sorts of fish then brought to market, 
fixed the value of pike higher than that of fresh 
salmon, and more than ten times greater than 
that of the best turbot or cod. 

Those patriarchal times have changed. Fish 
Rings are no longer deposed by Fish Kings, 
and fish goes up in price from year to year. 
For fresh- water fish, always excepting trout, 
there is no market at all, and yet food of such a 
sustaining quality ought surely not to be in- 
accessible to the great mass of the population. 
That they do not despise what they can get 
of it is sufficiently clear to the olfactory nerves 
of any one who passes through the poor quarters 
of our great towns at night. Fried Fish seem 
to pervade the air, and, on closer inspection, 
are even more unsavoury to the eyes than they 
have already been to the nostrils. The refuse, 
the sweepings out of the great fish-markets, the 
fish that are too much *' off colour " to be sold 
otherwise — all these easily account for the 
atmosphere of Leather Lane and suchlike fra- 
grant thoroughfares. Cheap food it may be; 
wholesome food it certainly cannot be; for 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 23 

unsoundness in fish is more absolutely poison- 
ous than in any other class of food. And 
yet, while our poor population are devouring at 
comparatively high prices the offal of Billings- 
gate, our inland lakes, ponds, and broads are 
lying useless. We do not speak of the rivers ; 
for the cultivation of such fish as pike and eels 
in rivers would probably raise an outcry amongst 
trout anglers, as trout have but little chance 
against the strength and voracity of the water- 
wolf. In ponds, large or small, however, pike 
would well repay cultivation, for they both grow 
and fatten with great rapidity. An increase of 
four pounds weight a year is said to be an 
ordinary average for a pike if well supplied with 
food, but instances are quoted of an increase of 
even ten and eleven pounds in the year. 

" From the days of Gesner downwards," said 
Mr. Frank Buckland, "more lies have been 
told about the pike than any other fish in the 
world," which is saying a good deal, since lies 
are told so profusely about all animals, human 
or otherwise, who are gifted with any remark- 
able characteristics, whether pleasant or the 
reverse. However, the many historians of the 



24 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

pike have hitherto kept clear of the super- 
natural ; were-wolves and " loups-garou " have 
no imitators amongst the finny tribes. A 
ghostly pike, with lambent eyes and distended 
jaws, is too fearful an idea to be, entertained 
for a moment. 

But, if the pike historians have refrained from 
enlarging on supernatural water-wolves, they 
have by no means curtailed their imaginations 
in their description of the real fish. The 
Mannheim pike which attained a length of 
nineteen feet, and was captured in 1497 at the 
advanced age of two hundred and sixty-seven 
years, having in its gills a brass ring, whereon 
was engraved in Greek, "I am the first fish 
that was placed in this pond by the hand of 
Frederick II., Governor of the World, on the 
5th of October, 1230," may certainly claim to 
be the most marvellous pike on record. " Its 
skeleton and ring were long preserved in the 
Cathedral of Mannheim," says Mr. Pennell in 
his " Book of the Pike," "but upon subsequent 
examination by a clever anatomist, it was dis- 
covered that the bones had been lengthened to 



AND OF STILL WA TERS. 25 

fit the story — in other words, that several ver- 
tebrae had been added. Another writer, M. 
Passon Maisonneuve, gives us further par- 
ticulars concerning the ring — namely, that it 
was of ' Gilded brass,' and could ' enlarge itself 
by springs ' — a highly necessary qualification if 
its wearer's growth is to be considered, and one 
which would seem not to be confined to this 
portion of the story alone." 

Putting aside such-like monsters, which seem 
to be, in the words of Polonius, " very like a 
whale," most veracious historians agree that 
the pike rarely exceeds 40 lbs. in weight, at all 
events in these islands. That he should not be 
allowed to do so is certain from a gastronomical 
point of view, seeing that a young pike or jack 
increases in weight at the rate of 4 lbs. per 
annum during the earlier portions of his life, 
but that after twelve years he diminishes each 
year by i lb. to 2 lbs., a rate of diminution 
increasing as his age advances. Young pike 
are the best for eating, and by connoisseurs 
those of moderate size are much preferred to 
either small or large fish. 



26 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

The ways of cooking pike are as many and 
various as his quality deserves. He can be 
roasted, boiled, braised, stuffed ; he can be 
disguised " a la Chambord," with mushrooms, 
onions, and cockscombs; "k I'Egyptienne," 
with gherkins, eggs, truffles, and port wine ; " a 
la meuniere," " k la maitre-d'hotel," " en mate- 
lote," and a hundred other ways; in all of 
which he is superexcellent. And if he is thus 
savoury and delightful in his last hour, how 
much more is he worthy of all praise when he is 
alive from the angler who loves true sport. He 
is no miserable little trout, who will even allow 
himself to be tickled out of his native stream. 
The angler who means to compass the death of 
a water-wolf, " this solitary, melancholy, and 
bold fish," as Walton calls him, must have iron 
nerves; for fishermen have been known to 
"drop their rods in sheer terror" at the first 
rush of a pike on its prey. 

As to what that prey may be the pike is not 
particular. Literally "all is fish that comes to 
his " jaws, with only two exceptions, a tench and 
a toad. There is a fond superstition that 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 27 

accounts for the pike's leniency towards the 
tench on the ground that the latter is the pike's 
physician ; and Camden in his " Britannia " was 
not afraid to say, " I have seen the bellies of 
pikes which have been rent open have their 
gaping wounds presently closed by the touch of 
the tench, and by his glutinous slime perfectly 
healed up." It is true that it would be question- 
able sanity on the part of the pike to eat his 
doctor ; but the fact that the pike's eyes are on 
the top of his head, and that the tench lives at 
the bottom of the muddiest water he can find, 
may have something to do with this self-denial 
on the part of the water-wolf 

His own species enjoy no immunity from his 
universal greed; and there is good reason for 
believing that more young pickerels are devoured 
by their parents than by all their other enemies 
put together, not excepting eels, who, however, 
account to some extent for the enormous 
difference between the eggs found in the roe of 
the female pike and the comparatively small 
number of pike to be found in our rivers. Mr. 
Frank Buckland tells of a pike which was sent 



28 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

to him, having been caught with rod and line in 
the Norfolk Broads. It weighed 32 lbs., five of 
which were represented by the roe, which con- 
tained no less than 595,200 eggs. In another 
pike, weighing 28 lbs., he found 292,320 eggs. 
It is evident, therefore, that the struggle for 
existence comes to young pickerels at a very 
early age, and that, when stocking either rivers 
or ponds, care should be taken to select pike as 
nearly of the same size and age as may be, so 
that the doctrine of the " survival of the fittest " 
should not be demonstrated after a time by the 
solitary presence of one ferocious monster. 

If the comparatively small number of pike 
that survive out of the millions of eggs deposited 
is worthy of note, still more marvellous is the 
apparently spontaneous generation of pickerels 
in ponds where pike have never existed. Izaak 
Walton, like all other writers on fish, noticed 
this mysterious peculiarity; but, unable to 
account for it otherwise, he was inclined to 
adopt one of the romances of Gesner and his 
contemporaries. *' It has been observed," he 
says of pike, " that where none have been put 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 29 

into ponds, yet they have there found many \ 
. . . 'tis not to be doubted but that they are 
bred, some by generation and some not, as 
namely of a weed called pickerel-weed — unless 
learned Gesner be much mistaken ; for he says 
this weed and other glutinous matter, with the 
help of the sun's heat, in some particular months 
and some ponds apted for it by nature, do 
become pikes." The *' glutinous matter," which 
the reverend angler wisely mentions, probably 
represented the spawn of some stray pike, for 
these fish are particularly fond of lying in beds 
of pickerel-weed, and depositing their spawn 
therein. 

Pike have a curious instinct which sometimes 
causes them to embark on land-journeys in 
search of food. Mr. Newnham, an English 
resident at Antwerp, in order to test this theory 
of migration, made two new ponds, and stocked 
one with pike and the other with small fresh- 
water fish, such as dace, roach, and barbel. 
After two days he had both ponds emptied, 
when it was discovered that many of the pike 
had travelled by some means or other from 



30 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

their own pond into that of their neighbours ; 
and had devoured the greater part of them. 
That these pike should have taken less than two 
days to think out their marauding plan, and put 
it in practice, is an additional proof that the 
water-wolf is at least possessed of a prompt and 
decided character. These Antwerp pike attained 
their end (and that of the small fry), but another 
pike on record came near having a different 
fate. He adorned the Aquarium at the Zoo- 
logical Gardens. One night the glass tank in 
which he lived broke, and the water- wolf, not 
appreciating being left thus high and dry, was 
found next morning by the keeper at a distance 
of twenty-four yards away, making for a piece 
of water. Fortunately for him, he was not 
allowed to reach it, for that pond contained the 
otters, who would no doubt have greatly appre- 
ciated a morning call from a fine young pike. 

The pike therefore is decidedly an exception 
to the rule that fish have little or no intelligence. 
Even the size of his brain is worthy of respect. 
Its proportionate size as compared to the rest of 
the body is as i to 1,300; in the shark, whose 



i 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 31 

intelligence has so often been vaunted, it is 
only as i to 2,500 ; while in the tunny it is but 
as I to 3,700. The only thing that dulls the 
pike's intelligence is his greed ; but even this 
may perhaps be caused by only an overweening 
confidence in his own gastric juices. With him 
as with so many other voracious animals, to swal- 
low seems to be his only joy ; palate he has little 
or none. Indeed, what an ill opinion of his 
powersof discrimination our ancestors had maybe 
gathered from Sir Hugh Plat, who, in his "Jewel- 
house of Art and Nature," published in 1653, 
gives the recipe for the following toothsome 
morsel : — " Fill a sheep's gut with small un- 
slaked limestones, and tie the same well at both 
ends, that no water get therein ; and, if any 
Pike devour it (as they are a ravening fish and 
very likely to do), she dieth in a short time." 
Even a pike's " most strongly and rapidly dis- 
solving gastric juices," as Dr. Fleming calls 
them, could hardly be expected to do justice to 
such a morsel. 

That wise woman of ancient days, Dame 
Juliana Berners, paid special attention to the 



32 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

capture of the pike ; and certainly the following 

quaint instructions that she gave concerning the 

most suitable bait are composed in somewhat 

of a kinder spirit than is the recipe of Sir Hugh 

Plat:— 

•' Take a codlynge hoke, and take a roche or a fresh 
heeryng, and a wyre with an hole in the ende, and put it 
in at the mouth, and out at the taylle, down by the ridge 
of the fresh heeryng, and thenne put the hoke in after, 
and drawe the hoke into the cheke of the fresshe heeryng ; 
then put a plumbe of lead upon your lyne a yarde longe 
from your hoke, and a flote in midwaye betwene ; and 
cast it in a pytte where the pyke usyth, and this is the 
best and moost surest crafte of takynge the pyke. An- 
other manere of takynge him there is ; take a frosshe [frog] 
and put it on your hoke, at the necke, betwene the skynne 
and the body, on the backe half, and put on a flote a 
yarde therefro, and caste it where the pyke hauntyth, and 
ye shall have hym. Another manere : take the same 
bayte, and put it in assafetida, and caste it in the water 
wyth a corde and a corke, and ye shall not fayl of hym." 

Such an attraction as a frog dipped in as- 
safoetida would surely be strong enough to 
tempt even the most gorged of pikes from his 
lair. But even this voracity, which is so unani- 
mously dwelt upon by pike historians, and so 
unfailingly taken advantage of by pike anglers, 
is one of his great sporting merits. A pike is 



AND OF STILL WATERS. ZZ 

" game " throughout his whole existence ; fear 
is to him unknown, he will attack anything or 
any one ; even otters and men, his two most 
redoubtable enemies, inspire him with no terror. 
He is game to the last ; and even when landed 
by his captor he fights on. Is it not recorded 
by that immortal sportsman, Mr. Briggs, that a 
pike not only bites, but " barks like a dog " ? 
Bite he certainly does, and woe betide any 
triumphant sportsman who is in too great a 
hurry when disengaging the hooks from his 
victim's mouth. The roles of captor and 
captive will be momentarily reversed, and the 
great canine teeth, the " serried pikes " of the 
water-wolfs mouth, will go near to meeting in 
his victim's hand. 

Courageous and intelligent in life, succulent 
and savoury in death, what more can any fish 
be expected to be ? And all pike-anglers will 
agree that no sea-fishing, except, perhaps, 
conger-catching, can be compared for excite- 
ment to the half-hour following the first 
" strike," when trolling or spinning for the 
" solitary, melancholy, and bold " water- wolf. 



CARP CULTURE 




D 2 




CHAPTER III. 

CARP CULTURE. 

HE carp is the queen of rivers ; a 
stately, a good, and a very subtil 
fish," says Izaak Walton, and none 
of these grave utterances may 
be gainsaid. "Stately, good, and 
subtil," indeed, is the carp ; and especially 
does he deserve the latter epithet, as all who 
have fished for him will agree. 

No fish requires greater patience on the part 

of the angler. Shyness, intelligence, and 

caprice are the very essence of the carp's 

nature, and no fish poet has failed to notice the 

carp's intelligence. 

** Of all the fish that swim the watery mead, 
Not one in cunning can the carp exceed," 

is an expression of opinion quoted by Daniel in 



38 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

his " Rural Sports," and another writer chimes 
in,— 

" The perch an idiot, and the carp a wit." 
Both the brain and the nerves of the ear are 
very highly developed in the carp. Professor 
Owen says that " the average proportion of the 
size of the brain to that of the body in fishes is 
one in three thousand ;" and Couch maintains 
that " in the carp, according to Blumenbach, it 
amounts to one in five hundred; this extra- 
ordinary development in the carp existing also 
in the portion of that centre of intelligence 
termed the prosencephalon, or what most 
nearly answers to the cerebrum, or seat of 
understanding, in the higher animals." It is no 
wonder, therefore, that it is seldom that a carp 
allows himself to be deluded by the wiles of his 
human enemies. Even old Walton, who ex- 
celled in the angler's chief virtue, seems to have 
been sorely tried by the " queen of rivers," for 
he begins his instructions to his pupil anent this 
fish in a manner which has something in com- 
mon with Mrs. Glasse's famous receipt about the 
hare. 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 39 

' * I will proceed to give you some observations of the 
carp," says the Father of the Rod, "how to angle for 
him, and to dress him, but not till he is caught . . . 
and my first direction is, that if you will fish for a carp, 
you must put on a very large measure of patience, . . . 
and beind possessed with that hope and patience, which 
I wish to all fishers, especially to the carp-angler, I 
shall tell you with what bait to fish for him." 

Authorities are not unanimous as to the date 
of the first introduction of carp into England, 
but as it is mentioned as a " deyntous fysshe, 
but scarce," in the Boke of St. Albans, printed 
by Wynkyn de Worde at Westminster in 1496, 
it is pretty obvious that Leonard Mascall was 
wrong when he claimed in 1600 to have been 
the introducer of this fish into English waters. 
In the Privy Purse expenses of King Henry the 
Eighth in 1532, are to be found various items 
of rewards given to persons who brought " carpes 
to the king." To those persons who have a 
fancy for trying out-of-the-way dishes, we would 
recommend Ben Jonson's tempting recipe, — 

**The tongues of carps, dormice, and camels' heels 
Boiled in the spirit of Sol." 

It is generally believed that these fish were 



40 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

first brought over to England by monks who were 
wise enough to appreciate their merits. Carp 
were peculiarly well fitted to receive the atten- 
tion of monasteries, for no fish were better 
adapted to thrive in the stews and fishponds 
where the monks of old usually kept their finny 
live-stock. 

Most fish that do well in ponds yet would 
prefer a river, but the carp, on the contrary, 
attains his greatest size and excellence only in 
ponds. 

Carp have been introduced into both Ireland 
and Scotland, but in the latter country the 
efforts to establish them have not been success- 
ful. In most places in Scotland they either do 
not breed at all, or they breed very slowly, 
which, for so remarkably prolific a fish, is 
curious. However, the endless caprices of carp 
must be accepted. 

Professor Spencer F. Baird, United States 
Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries, was the 
first American who saw how very important the 
question of food-fish was becoming. After 
many investigations carried on chiefly in 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 41 

Europe, he decided in favour of experi- 
mentalizing on carp, and began operations by 
importing some from one of the breeding esta- 
blishments in Germany. Captain Milton Pierce, 
Secretary of the American Carp Cultural Asso- 
ciation, gives a most interesting account of the 
breeding from these imported German carp, 
and the efforts to improve on them, until at last 
these efforts were crowned with success by the 
production of the scaleless American carp. 
*' It has been our aim for years." says this 
triumphant carp culturist, " to breed from those 
specimens having the least quantity of scales, 
and this scaleless carp is simply the result of 
this careful breeding. It is practical evolution 
— from full scale to scaleless types." 

The Americans are the first who have devoted 
so much attention to this question of scales v. 
no scales. This sublimated and scaleless type 
of carp, which should be " as smooth as a frog," 
is peculiarly the result of American breeding. 
The Germans have three kinds of carp, which 
are known as scale, leather, and mirror carp, 
but none of these are as perfect either in shape 



42 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

or in quality as their scaleless American 
cousin. 

In France little or no attention is given to 
the scale question, and the carp-breeding there, 
though most extensive and lucrative, is carried 
on in an unsystematic manner, differing entirely 
from that advocated elsewhere. Those who 
have visited the highlands of the Limousin, will 
have noticed ponds of all sizes, many of them 
large enough to be dignified by the more 
grandiloquent name of lakes, but to the 
country people one and all etangs and 
nothing more. These ponds are among the 
chief sources of wealth of the country, which 
is mostly but poor soil for cultivation, as a great 
part of it has only recently been reclaimed from 
moorland and heather ; they are stocked with 
carp, and once every three years a great fishing 
takes place. 

All the able-bodied men of the country-side 
are engaged for a certain day in October to 
meet at one of the ponds ; that on the highest 
level being taken first. The sluices are opened 
three days previously, and the water allowed to 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 43 

run gradually off, leaving that bed of deep mud 
which seems to be one of the necessaries of 
carp existence. When there is only a thin rill 
of water left trickling down the centre of the 
erstwhile pond, the fishing begins. On all 
sides the carp lie floundering, panting, gasping 
on the expanse of mud ; in some places they 
are two or three deep on top of one another. 
Though the quantity of carp in these ponds is 
something extraordinary, they do not seem to 
suffer individually from their great numbers ; 
for the fish are remarkably fine and heavy. 

The men wade through the mud, catching the 
carp by the gills, and flinging them on to the 
bank. There they are weighed by men who 
have come with carts from the nearest town to 
buy the fish ; and after the weighing the carp 
are packed amongst straw in the carts as tightly 
as possible. When the carts are full they 
return to the town, and the carp are then 
placed in tanks. A carp takes a good deal of 
killing; and though being tightly packed in 
straw for a whole day and jolted down-hill for 
perhaps four hours may strike him as a novel 



44 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

experience, it does not do him the very least 
harm ; as soon as he is released from durance 
vile and placed in the tanks, he resumes the 
even tenour of his way, probably till the follow- 
ing Lent, when, as carpe au bleu^ carpe en 
matelote, carpe au vin blanc, and in many other 
still more savoury disguises, he helps the faith- 
ful Catholic through his forty days' trial. 

While the fishing goes on, groups of women 
make fires on the bank, and they heat 
cauldrons of soup, mixed with strong red wine, 
which is served out unceasingly in bowls to the 
soaked and muddy fishermen. This is a 
necessary precaution in a climate where people 
are sometimes snowed up for days early in 
November. The gipsy fires and groups of 
women, the men wading through the mud and 
water, mostly dressed in frieze coats of the 
most brilHant hues, and with high boots to 
protect them somewhat during their task ; the 
piles of shining, glistening fish ; and, in the 
background, the carts waiting to take away the 
spoils, altogether make a highly picturesque 
scene. 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 45 



Amongst the carp are always found a number 
of pike, one of the mysteries of pisciculture, for 
the very greatest care is taken to eliminate them 
from the ponds on account of the immense 
damage they do. As the ponds are drained 
dry, and completely re-stocked every three years, 
one would imagine that the extermination of 
the pike would not be a very difficult matter; 
but when the triennial fishing takes place, the 
irrepressible pike is again to the fore. As soon 
as the fishing is over in one pond the sluices 
are closed, and the pond allowed to fill gradually, 
while the fishermen betake themselves to any 
other ponds that are to be fished the same year, 
according to the date of their re-stocking. 
When the empty ponds are again full of water, 
the breeding-pond is drawn upon to supply 
young fish . This breeding-pond is never drained 
dry of water. When young fish are required, 
the breeding-pond is drawn with nets, and only 
young fish are taken ; the old ones are returned 
to their home to breed undisturbed, while 
their progeny are translated to the fishing-ponds 
for their allotted span of three years. 



46 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

Of the profit to be derived from this form of 
pisciculture, some idea may be gathered from 
the fact that half a franc a pound is the price 
given for the fish when weighed on the bank of 
the pond in which they have been caught. 
There is no expense in seeking a market, with 
possible loss on the fish by the way — in fact, no 
expense of any kind except the pay of men and 
boys employed in the triennial take, which is but 
a small item in comparison to the enormous 
profit on the hundreds of heavy fish which have 
cost absolutely nothing up to the time of the 
sale. It is no wonder, therefore, that the 
landed proprietors in the department of Correze 
consider that the acres under water are infinitely 
more profitable and far safer investments in 
every way than those under agriculture. We 
islanders are too apt to think scornfully of any 
freshwater fish except trout, but the French can 
teach us as much in this part of the great 
question of food supply as in the others. It has 
often been said that a Frenchman will live 
succulently where an Englishman will nearly 
starve ; and when we see all our ponds and 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 



M 



inland broads lying unused and their capa- 
bilities of supporting and fattening fish wasted, 
we must feel in all humility that our French 
brethren make a better use of the bountiful 
gifts of Nature than we do. 




COUSIN'S OF THE CARP 



c> 



■-^■^9 






CHAPTER IV. 




COUSINS OF THE CARP. 

F all freshwater fish that are worth 
cultivation for the table the tench 
gives the least trouble. Almost any 
pond will suit his contented mind ; 
like the modest violet, he shuns the 
" eager eye of day," and the deeper and quieter 
the pool in which he is placed, the better he 
is pleased. To him as to his near relation and 
close ally, the carp, swift rivers are distasteful ; 
gravelly beds, clear running water, are abomi- 
nations. A deep quiet pond, with a bottom of 
mud, in which he can find the larvae upon which 
he principally subsists, is more to his mind ; or, 
better still, one of those deep pits from which 
clay has been dug for bricks. When these pits 
are filled with water, tench thrive greatly therein ; 
the quiet which is conducive to meditation 

E 2 



52 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

seems also conducive to adipose tissue, and in 
such situations tench grow fat and multiply in a 
manner most edifying to their proprietor. 

Tench are found in most slow-running rivers 
and ponds in Europe ', and in many places are 
greatly esteemed for the table. In England 
they are found in great quantities in Norfolk 
and Suffolk, and also in the Southern and 
Midland counties, but further north they gradu- 
ally diminish. In Scotland they are rare, and the 
few instances of their presence there have to be 
accounted for by Yarrell by the fact that the 
ponds in which they exist are supplied solely by 
rain-water — the hard spring water of Scotland 
being utterly unsuited to the requirements of 
tench. However, if rain-water were the only thing 
wanted for a tench's happiness, it seems strange 
that he should not thrive under Scotch skies. 

Tench are pretty widely distributed in Ireland, 
for they are known to exist in ponds in the 
counties of Cork, Dublin, and Kilkenny. The 
non-appearance of the tench in the North is 
probably owing to his dislike of cold. In the 
winter he generally buries himself in the mud. 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 53 

and, as Couch remarks, " there lies concealed, 
perhaps for a longer time than is pleasing to 
himself, although from the power he possesses 
of extracting the minutest portions of air from 
almost exhausted water, he continues to live 
where other fish must have perished." This 
peculiarity has afforded scope for experiments, 
which have proved that the tench is able to 
breathe when the quantity of oxygen is reduced 
to the five-thousandth part of the bulk of water ; 
ordinary river- water generally containing one 
per cent, of oxygen. Dr. Roget observes " that 
this fact shows the admirable perfection of the 
organs of this fish, which can extract so minute 
a quantity of air from water, to which that air 
adheres with great tenacity." Obviously the 
power to live under circumstances which would 
kill many other fish, greatly increases the value 
of the tench as a marketable commodity. Like 
his cousin the carp, he can be conveyed long 
distances to market, packed in straw or wet 
moss, and if not sold, can be brought back to 
the pond or stew whence he was taken, to 
await another occasion for sale. 



54 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

In England the merits of the tench as food 
are but little known, a remark that could 
equally be applied to many other good and 
wholesome articles of food in favour with our 
more enlightened Continental neighbours. In 
France and Italy tench are highly esteemed ; 
even in small country towns in France as much 
as one franc and upwards a pound is given for 
them. In Holland tench are considered a 
first-rate delicacy, equal to turtle. 

Much of the excellence of tench, however, 
depends upon their feeding ; but this may be 
said to be the case with all fish as well as 
animals. Frank Buckland says that " the 
natural food both of carp and tench is the 
larvae of insects, small worms, and the soft 
parts of various aquatic plants," and Mr. Gill- 
bank, an eminent botanist and a friend of Mr. 
Buckland, adds that "the water in which they 
(tench) are placed cannot be too soft." The 
slime at the bottom of ponds in which tench 
love to bury themselves does not seem to affect 
their flavour. Yarrell mentions some tench 
who were taken out of Munden Hall Fleet in 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 55 

Essex, " which was so thick with weeds that the 
flew-nets could hardly be sunk through them, 
and where the mud was intolerably foetid, and 
had dyed the fish of its own colour, which was 
that of ink, yet no tench could be better grown 
or of a sweeter flavour ; many were taken that 
weighed nine and some ten pounds the brace." 
It would have been simpler to have given the 
weight of any individual fish, as the above 
method of reckoning is apt to remind the 
reader of the Yankee's boast about the mos- 
quitoes of his native land — *' Many of them 
would weigh a pound ! " Tench, however, do 
attain a fine size, though not so great a one as 
the carp, whom, however, they surpass in beauty 
of colour and excellence of meat. Tench 
seldom attain a greater weight in this country 
than seven or eight pounds, though in Italy they 
sometimes grow to twenty pounds. The usual 
weight of tench in small ponds is from two to 
three pounds, and this average is attained only 
under favourable circumstances as regards 
water, numbers, and feeding. In 1874 a tench 
was taken at Sonning that weighed five pounds, 



56 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

and at Elstree Reservoir, one year when the 
water was very low, a number of tench of three 
and four pounds each were caught. Mr. Manley 
mentions one glorious " take " of tench in the 
Avon a few miles above Christchurch,at which he 
assisted. With the help of nets, five tench were 
taken averaging over five pounds each, the 
largest weighing close upon six pounds. Such 
splendid tench, however, are rare, and most 
anglers for this wary fish esteem themselves 
lucky if a day's sport produces several two- 
pounders. 

Yet in water that suits them tench are mar- 
vellously prolific ; in a fish of four pounds' 
weight Bloch counted nearly three hundred 
thousand ova. They spawn about the middle 
of June, or, as Willoughby remarks, " when the 
wheat is in blossom." The development of 
the grains of spawn is extraordinarily rapid. In 
Muller's Archives for 1836 M. Rusconi ob- 
served : — 

" Soon after the application of the milt the ovum loses 
its spherical form, and swells out into the form of a pear, 
and at the point where the swelling begins it is surrounded 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 57 

with a cluster of microscopic globules, which before were 
spread all over its surface. In half an hour the pear- 
shaped excrescence is divided into four globules, which 
in another quarter of an hour are subdivided into eight, 
and after a similar period into thirty-two, which still 
remain clustered together on the top of the egg. In 
another half-hour more globules appear, which become 
less in size as they increase in numbers, and at length, 
from their minuteness, that part of the egg to which they 
are attached becomes almost as smooth as before they 
made their appearance. The embryo fish is now seen in 
the form of a whitish transparent speck, which is the 
rudiment of the backbone. The organization of the skin 
then proceeds, and the embryo as it is coiled round the 
yoke increases in length until the head becomes percep- 
tible. In forty hours from the first this embryo tench 
gives signs of motion, and in further twelve hours it has 
freed itsell from the skin of the egg, at which time the 
fish is two lines in length, and the blood is of its natural 
colour. For some hours after leaving the egg the young 
appear inert ; lying on their sides and unable to swim, 
but when the swimming bladder becomes developed they 
assume their proper position and activity." 

In Stocking ponds with tench it will be found 
that the larger and finer the fish that are turned 
down for breeding the better; it is the most 
certain way of obtaining good-sized fish for 
table in the shortest space of time. Ponds 
should not be allowed to get over-stocked, and 
from the breeding-pond the small fish should 



58 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

be withdrawn from time to time, and deposited 
elsewhere as much for their own benefit as that 
of their parents. Two males to one female is 
the right proportion of the sexes amongst the 
tench, and certainly not less than three to two 
at the outside should be turned down for breed- 
ing purposes. The male tench is easily dis- 
tinguishable by the larger size of the ventral 
fin, which, as Mr. Couch remarks, " has a stout, 
thick, crooked, and transversely-striated first 
ray." A mixture of greaves and meal is excel- 
lent food for tench which are being kept for 
the table ; and a well-fed tench is a most worthy 
fish from a gastronomical point of view. 

As regards his capabilities of affording sport 
opinions differ, but most anglers seem to agree 
that he is a most capricious fish. One day he 
will take almost any bait offered to his notice ; 
another, and another, and another, he will 
ignore the angler's best worm so completely 
that it would seem impossible that a tench ever 
existed in the pond under notice. Mr. Francis 
mentions an example of this. He was told by 
the proprietor of a small pond in Hampshire 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 59 

that it was full of fine tench. He fished all one 
evening, and got only a miserable little half- 
pounder, and would have given up in despair, 
but the owner begged him to try again next 
day. He did so, and was rewarded by catching 
so many that at last he got tired of pulling them 
out, and left off while the fish were yet biting 
freely. He went back to the pond next day, 
and caught one small tench; and, though he 
returned on many occasions, in hope of resuming 
the splendid sport he had had, he never caught 
a single tench there again. Though tench 
sometimes feed freely all day, their favourite 
feeding-time is dusk, when the angler can 
scarcely see his float. Tench, hke bream, will 
sometimes take the bait when standing on 
their heads searching for food on the bottom ; 
the angler's float then ceases to " cock," for the 
leads on the Ime hang downwards from the 
fish's mouth as he rises tail foremost. It 
behoves the fisherman, therefore, to keep his 
eyes open if he wishes to strike at the right 
moment, which authorities maintain should be 
only when he sees his float well carried off. 



6o A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

On the Norfolk Broads, besides the numbers 
of tench that are caught in bow-nets, there is a 
curious local way of catching them, which, 
though not so common as it used to be, is 
still resorted to by the Broadmen. During the 
hot summer days, and especially at the 
spawning-time, tench love to bask on the 
surface of the water. The approach of the fisher- 
men in a boat disturbs them only sufficiently 
to make them seek the shelter of the nearest 
bed of reeds, to which the angler cautiously 
follows them. He can see where any particular 
fish has paused in his flight by the bubble 
which rises when he stops, and, lowering one 
hand cautiously under the fish, just behind the 
gills, he raises it gently, yet rapidly, out of the 
water and into the boat. The tench seems to 
think that the fingers creeping under it are only 
bits of weed ; but the tench-tickler must be 
careful of two things — one is, not to touch the 
fish on the tail, as a violent dash away is the 
immediate consequence ; and the other is, to 
be cautious, in lifting the tench into the boat, 
not to touch the gunwale with his knuckles, as 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 6i 

the slightest jar wakes the fish from its pleasant 
dream, and it will probably flounce out of its 
captor's hand and escape — a wiser, if not a 
sadder, fish. In the " Fauna of Norfolk," the 
Rev. M. Lubbock says that in the course of a 
favourable day, a tench-tickler " would easily 
secure five or six dozen ;" and Mr. Davies, in 
his " Norfolk Broads and Rivers," mentions a 
fisherman at Oulton who has frequently success- 
fully " tickled " seventeen brace of large tench 
in the course of a summer's afternoon. It is 
a pity that this interesting mode of catching 
tench should be on the wane, as Mr. Davies 
affirms it to be ; bow-nets are probably one of 
the causes of its decline, and a continuance of 
cold wet summers is another, as tench are found 
basking near the top of the water only in very 
hot sunny weather, owing to their extreme sen- 
sitiveness to cold. 

Bream are, like tench, fond of still, quiet 
waters with soft soil bottoms, in which they find 
their chief sustenance. Izaak Walton speaks 
highly of this " large and stately fish," as he calls 
him, a name his appearance assuredly merits. 



62 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK : 

The " Boke of St. Albans " calls him "a noble 
fyssche and a deynteous." and gives particular 
directions for catching him. Even as far back 
as Chaucer bream were known and appreciated, 
for that poet referred to them in his Prologue 
to the *' Canterbury Tales :"— 

•' Full many a fair partrich hadde he in mewe 
And many a Breme and many a Luce in stewe." 

Sir William Dugdale states that in 141 9, when 
the labour of a skilled artisan was worth less 
than sixpence a day, a single bream was valued 
at twenty pence. In the " Pictorial History of 
England," mention is made of a pie containing 
four bream, which was sent from Warwickshire 
to a distant part of Yorkshire, and cost sixteen 
shillings ; a proof that these fish must . have 
been highly valued to be thought worth sending 
on such a long journey. 

Bream, though not so common as carp and 
tench, are found in most parts of England, 
except Cornwall and Devonshire; and in 
Ireland they inhabit the lakes of the north. In 
Lough Erne, that " fishiest " of lakes, bream 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 63 

abound in such enormous shoals that they make 
a ripple on the water like a stiff breeze of wind. 
Leland, in that quaint language so peculiar to 
himself, says that " in Wales, not far from 
Breckenok, in Llyn Senatham, which is in 
bredth a mile, and a two miles of length, and 
wher as it is depest a thirteen fadom, it berith 
as the principale fisch a great numbre of 
Bremes, and they appere in May in mighti 
seniles. So that sumtime they breke large 
nets ; and ons frayed appereth not in the bryme 
of the water that yere againe." In many 
places where bream abound nets are used for 
taking them. In Ireland this is the case, where 
the bream run to a very large size, attaining 
sometimes twelve and fourteen pounds. They 
are usually bought by the poorer classes, who 
split and salt them to eat with their potatoes in 
winter. In England the poorer classes are not 
so wise; and in Norfolk, where bream swarm, 
the amount of these fish formerly thrown away 
in heaps to rot on the banks was an absolute 
disgrace in a country where there is such 
destitution as in England. Since the passing 



64 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

of the Norfolk and Suffolk Freshwater Fisheries 
Act in 1877 this waste has happily been put a 
stop to, as these immense quantities of fish 
were caught by poachers dragging the rivers 
with small-meshed nets. Most of the bream 
caught in Norfolk are sent to towns such as 
Manchester and Birmingham, where there are 
large numbers of poor Jews, who buy the 
bream at a low price for eating on fast-days. 
It has been affirmed by Mr. Greville Fennell, 
in the columns of the Fields that on Trent- 
side bream are held in high estimation for the 
table, and it is said that a bream weighing 
17 lbs. was once taken in the Trent. The one 
drawback to a bream's gastronomical merit is 
that he is furnished with a double row of 
ribs, which correspond to those of the 
herring, shad, and pilchard. But in a fish 
of so large a size, it seems absurd to allow 
this fact to militate much against him, when 
herrings, whose diminutive bodies often seem 
to contain nothing but bones, are so highly 
appreciated. In France, bream are much eaten, 
ten or twelve sous a pound being the usual 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 65 

price in country towns. The old French 
proverb, " Qui a breme peut bramer ses amis," 
which Izaak Walton translates, " He that 
hath breams in his pond is able to bid his 
friend welcome," proves that in France a 
bream, like good wine, " needs no bush." 

But though opinions may differ in our 
enlightened land as to a bream's toothsome- 
ness, all authorities agree as to his merits as 
a "sporting" fish. His deep sides give him 
immense advantages in offering resistance. 
Mr. Manley says of him that "he makes 
bold, strong, determined rushes when first 
hooked, and a young angler with anything 
like fine tackle will have his nerve and skill 
well tested in landing a four-pounder. He 
is a shy and timid fish, and almost as crafty 
as an old carp, while of all fish he is, 
perhaps, the most light and delicate in his 
biting ; and the larger he is, the more 
tenderly does he seem to take the bait." 
Bream are also as sensitive to vibrations of 
sound as their cousins the carp, and Mr. 
Manley therefore advises all bream-anglers to 



66 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK. 

wear list slippers or goloshes in their punts, 
as no sound is more apt to scare away 
bream than the noise of boots on the floor 
of a boat or punt. Ordinary float-tackle, 
such as is used for roach-fishing, will be found 
equally serviceable for ordinary-sized bream ; 
big bream are more usually taken on the 
" leger." It is well also for a bream-angler 
to arm himself with a stout apron and cloth, 
for bream are covered, much like the tench, 
with a thick slime, which would otherwise 
ruin the angler's clothes irretrievably. The 
necessity of a new suit of clothes for each 
day's bream-fishing would be apt to warp the 
enthusiasm of the most ardent fisher of carp- 
bream. 




PERCH 



M^ 




F 2 




CHAPTER V, 




PERCH. 

F all British freshwater fishes the 
perch is perhaps the most widely 
distributed. In nearly all the ponds 
and rivers of England and Ireland 
he is to be found, and in some of the 
waters in the South of Scotland. Further north 
he becomes rare. It is hard to ascribe a reason 
for the perch's dislike to Scotland ; it cannot be 
the cold climate, as perch are found in Scan- 
dinavia and even in Lapland. 

For two reasons the perch is worth cultiva- 
tion. He affords excellent sport, as all Thames, 
Kennet, and Waveney anglers will acknow- 
ledge ; and what would riparian haunts be 
without the edible charms of Perca fluviatilis ? 
Other charms he has, too, for he is one of the 
most beautiful fish in our islands. Frank 
Buckland says of the perch that " No lady's 



70 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

dress was ever made so beautiful as that of a 
perch's when he is in full season. His cuirass 
of scales is formed of a lovely bronze, with 
transverse bars of dark-green bronze, while 
the whole is shaded with a lovely peacock 
iridescence. His fins are coloured with a 
lovely tinge of red, such as we may sometimes see 
in the glass of very old church windows, or 
occasionally in Salviati's beautiful glass. Artists 
would do well to study the colouring of the 
perch. They will not find such brilliancy of 
colour or such a combination of tints in any 
flower." Mr. Buckland might have quoted the 
description of the serpent in Keats' " Lamia:" — 

** She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue, 
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue ; 
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard, 
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr'd ; 
And full of silver moons," — 

But this extraordinary brilliancy of colouring, 
bestowed on such a northerner as the British 
perch, is more or less evanescent. " Age can 
wither " him, and an elderly perch is a very 
dusky object in comparison with the " chromatic 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 71 

beauty," as one writer puts it, of the rising 
generation. 

The perch has come down to us from ancient 
days with a long pedigree of excellence. He 
was well known to the Greeks, and Aristotle 
wrote much about him under the name of Trep/cr/. 
In fact, his name of perch is derived from the 
adjective TrepKos, which was used to describe the 
dark shade of ripening olives, a colour which 
we find reproduced in the " transverse bars " 
that adorn Percafluviatilis. These dark bars are 
sometimes the cause of a curious optical illusion ; 
for, on looking down on a perch through clear 
still water, he appears absolutely transparent. 
The family of Fercidce, to which the perch 
belongs, is a very large one, distributed over all 
parts of the world, in salt water as well as in 
fresh. Amongst his cousins the perch can claim 
such ornaments to fish society as the stinging 
weever or "sea dragon," the labrax or "sea 
wolf," after whose name " in Latin or Greek 
gradus," says Mr. Manley, " is found such a 
string of epithets denoting his rapacity, voracity, 
and fierceness that they make one's very blood 



72 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK : 

run cold/' the hideous " sky-gazer " of the 
Mediterranean, and the Nile perch, which even 
a crocodile is said to eschew. Of these 
Acanthopteri^ or spinous-finned fishes, very few 
inhabit our waters, an immunity for which any 
one who has personally encountered a stinging 
weever or even handled a perch incautiously 
will feel grateful. 

The first dorsal fin of a perch is a weapon 
both of offence and defence. When he is 
placidly enjoying himself, after he has had a 
satisfying meal of the small red worms which 
his soul loves, and which are found in abun- 
dance in the wet soil by Thames side, then 
the perch sheathes his back fin. Like many 
people of one's acquaintance, when he has 
everything to his liking he can afford to be 
good-humoured; but let something occur to 
upset him (and a perch's temper has not got a 
very firm equilibrium), and in a moment he 
rushes at the offender, whatever he maybe, with 
all his spines erect and bristling, and, as a 
French author aptly puts it, " il fait penser au 
chat." As to these spines Mr. Manley quaintly 



AND OF STILL WATERS. y^ 

remarks, ** I hardly know which is the least easy 
to handle with any substantial comfort, a perch, 
a red-hot coal, or a lively hedgehog." Appro- 
priately was one of the old Saxon gods 
represented standing with naked feet on the 
back fin of a perch, " as an emblem of patience 
in adversity and constancy in trial." Pike 
have been said to refrain from devouring perch 
on account of this dorsal fin ; but this has been 
pretty well disproved, and certainly the many 
deaths from " sticklebackitis " amongst young 
jack would seem to denote that they are often 
rash enough to attempt to negotiate far pricklier 
food than a perch. Drayton alludes to this idea 
when he speaks of 

" The perch with pricking fins, against the pike prepared." 

A pike's intelligence, however, is quite sufficient 
to tell him that a perch swallowed, as he always 
is, head-foremost, would be a comparatively 
innocuous morsel, for the threatening fin would 
be closed down, like the ribs of a furled um- 
brella, when passing down the gullet. Once 
the perch is inside, the pike knows his gastric 



74 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 



juices too well to have further qualms. Perhaps 
it is the necessity of taking good aim when 
proceeding to swallow a perch that makes the 
pike fight shy of him in his hours of repletion, 
for a perch swallowed sideways would certainly 
give trouble. In many places both in England 
and the south of Scotland small perch are con- 
sidered the best taking bait for pike, and in 
Slapton Lea a perch with his back fin cut off is 
almost the only bait used for pike-fishing. 
Some writers suggest that it is on account 
of the unusually rough skin and closely-set 
scales of the perch that that all-devouring 
monster the pike is lenient towards him. 
However, it is hardly necessary to find reason 
for a fallacy. 

Pike are often caught in Sweden in a curious 
way, illustrative of their greed. Large perch 
swallow the baited hooks on the night-lines, 
and in their turn are swallowed by pike. In 
this case, however, it is, of course, impossible 
for the pike to swallow the perch head-foremost^ 
and, though he is not actually hooked, yet the 
perch's spines set so fast in his throat and 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 75 

mouth that the fisherman draws both fish in 
together. Somewhat the same fate often over- 
takes the perch, too, when his greed makes him 
attempt to devour the formidable sticklebacks. 
The sharp-set spines of the back and ventral 
fins of the sticklebacks are driven into the 
membrane of the mouth of the perch, and cause 
*' such fretting ulcerations as to lead to its 
destruction," as Mr. Couch remarks. 

The skin of the perch is remarkably thick ; 
and Linnaeus in his " Lachesis Lapponica," 
gives the following account of the way by which 
the Laplanders convert it into glue : — • 

'* The glue used by the Laplanders for joining the Xys'o 
portions of different woods of which their bows are made 
is prepared from the common perch in the following 
manner : — Some of the largest of this fish being flayed, 
the skins are first dried, and afterwards soaked in a small 
quantity of cold water, so that the scales can be rubbed 
off. Four or five of these skins being wrapped up 
together in a bladder or in a piece of birch bark, so that 
no water can get at them, are set on the fire in a pot of 
water to boil, a stone being laid over the pot to keep in 
the heat. The skins thus prepared make a very strong 
glue, insomuch that the articles joined with it will never 
separate again. A bandage is tied round the bow while 
making to hold the two parts more firmly together.'* 



76 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

Linnaeus described also a deformed variety of 
perch, with the back greatly elevated and the 
tail distorted, which he found at Fahlun, in 
Sweden, and in other lakes in the north of 
Europe. Specimens of these "deformed " perch 
have also been found in Llyn Raithlyn, in 
Merionethshire, and there is a drawing of one 
of them in Daniel's " Rural Sports ;" but they 
are looked upon as "accidents of nature" 
rather than a true and distinct breed. Albino 
perch, also, almost entirely white, have been 
found in the waters of particular soils. 

Perch prefer lakes and the deeper and less 
rapid pools of rivers ; a very swift current is to 
them an abomination ; and, if their lot is cast 
in a rapid stream, they will invariably be found 
near the bank or in backwaters. In the winter- 
time, when floods occur, perch are driven in 
vast numbers into any pool or eddy they can 
find, and it is then that the largest " takes " are 
made. Mr. Francis says that on these occasions 
" they are pulled out not in braces, dozens, or 
even scores, but often to the tune of hundreds. 
I have seen and helped to catch ten dozen, and 



AND OF STILL WATERS. yj 

over, out of one hole, and have heard of twice 
ten dozen being taken." It is at starvation 
times such as those that the perch merits his 
name of " the greedy perch, bold biting fool," 
as the Complimentary Ode to Izaak Walton has 
it ; but at less rigorous seasons, and when he is 
not over plentiful, there are few fish more in- 
telligently wary than he. Indeed in waters that 
are much fished perch attain an experience 
of bait and fishing-tackle which would do credit 
to many anglers, who often insult a perch's 
intelligence by fishing for him with a monstrous 
apparatus of hog's bristles, shots, and bone 
bought at a tackle-maker's, under the fond delu- 
sion that it is the "right sort" of paternoster. 
As Mr. Francis rightly observes about such 
abominations, "if he (the perch) condescends 
to take your minnow at all, he will take it 
probably without the hook." 

There are several ways of fishing for perch, 
but paternostering from a punt is the most 
common and the most successful as to mere 
numbers. The largest and best fish, however, 
are more apt to take a spinning minnow; and 



78 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 



in lakes they are said to take a spoon better 
than almost any other spinning bait. In this 
matter of spoons they have their predilections ; 
and it is said they prefer the triangular spinner 
made of spoon-metal (commonly known as the 
" otter ") to the ordinary spoon. In some parts 
of the country perch are fished for with a fly ; 
and, as they are not particular about the fashion 
of the fly, a showy one, with plenty of tinsel on 
the body, is most to be commended. In Nor- 
folk, the water-shrimp is a favourite bait. One 
thing, however, that the angler should be careful 
to remember is that the perch has a rather 
tender mouth, and therefore needs delicate 
handling. He should neither be struck at too 
sharply nor played too roughly. 

Ponds in which perch are bred and kept for 
table should be carefully netted from time to 
time ; perch breed so fast that if care is not 
taken to keep their numbers within bounds, 
they will soon overstock a pond. Mutual starva- 
tion is the result, and the owner is surprised 
to find that his perch are rapidly degenerating 
and becoming very small. The remedy for this 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 79 

state of things is to keep down the numbers, 
and to feed the survivors regularly ; under these 
favourable circumstances the perch will grow 
and fatten rapidly. Perch vary in weight con- 
siderably according to the locality. On the 
Thames a perch of 4 lbs. or 4^ lbs. is looked 
upon as a monster and a rarity ; and even a 
2 -lb. fish is considered a very satisfactory 
specimen. But at Slapton Lea one was taken 
who weighed 6 lbs., his portrait and a record 
of his weight being figured in chalk on the wall 
of the bar-parlour. Another of the same 
weight was caught in the Birmingham Canal. 
Montagu mentions a perch of 8 lbs. he saw 
taken in the Avon on a night-line which had 
been set for pike, and another eight-pounder 
was caught in Dagenham Breach. In the 
Norfolk Broads perch are both numerous and 
large. Mr. Davies says that " four-pounders 
are frequently taken, and the Waveney produces 
some very large ones. A 7-lb. perch was taken 
some years ago out of the new cut from Reed- 
ham to Maddiscoe, and others from five to six 
pounds in weight have been taken in the Bure 



So A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK : 

and on Ormesby Broad." Pennant speaks of a 
perch, taken in the Serpentine, Hyde Park, 
that weighed 9 lbs. In Scandinavia and Lap- 
land the perch attains a still larger size, and 
Bloch speaks of the head of a perch preserved 
in the church of Luelah, in Lapland, which 
measured twelve inches from the point of the 
nose to the end of the gill-cover. Mr. Frank 
Buckland was not lucky enough to get hold of 
any of these perchy monsters, for the largest 
that came into his hands was one sent to him 
by Dr. Norman from Norfolk in 1868; it 
weighed 3 lbs. 2 ozs. 

The quantity of ova varies very much in 
perch, but all authorities are agreed that it is very 
large. In one perch, of half a pound weight, 
280,000 eggs were found, whereas in the Norfolk 
perch just mentioned Mr. Buckland found only 
155,620, in spite of the greater size of the 
fish. 

The fact that perch have a most remarkable 
capacity for living out of water for a consider- 
able period, should add greatly to their value 
as a marketable commodity. Thus, in some 



AND OF STILL WATERS, 8i 

parts of Germany perch are caught and carried 
alive to market, sometimes a distance of forty 
or fifty miles, and, if not sold, brought back to 
their pond. 

Few better fish come to table than a good 
river-perch. Amongst the ancients he was 
held in high favour. Ausonius sang his praises, 
and thus addressed him : — 

"Nee te, delicias ?}ieiisai-uni, Perca, silebo." 

Galen prescribed perch as good for invalids, and 
another author spoke rapturously of the fish's 
" flower-like " odour. Walton, speaking of his 
merits, quotes the proverb, " More wholesome 
than a perch of Rhine.^' Mr. Frank Buckland 
speaks of them as being used for "water- 
souche," a dish beloved by most riparians, but 
pins his own faith to perch cooked by the 
fisherman as soon as caught, for which he gives 
the following " excellent receipt :" — 

*' Take the fish as caught, not drawn or otherwise 
cleaned, procure some stiff clay, and with it give the fish 
a thin coating about the sixteenth of an inch thick ; 
failing the clay, lightly envelop it in several coatings of 
paper — newspaper will answer admirably ; thoroughly 

G 



82 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK. 



saturate the paper by holding it in hot water, having 
previously lighted a fire of vi^ood and sticks so as to produce 
a quantity of hot fire-holding embers. Give the fish in 
the case of clay twenty minutes therein ; if the fish are in 
newspaper give them twenty minutes longer ; time must 
be allowed according to size. Fish done in this way are 
perfection." 

No doubt they are ; and a hungry fisherman's 
appetite will probably supply the best sauce for 
this worthy fish. 




SMALL FRY 




G 2 




I 




CHAPTER VI. 

SMALL FRY. 
L 

ICHAEL DRAYTON hardly 
showed his usual discrimination 
when he treated small fry so 
cavalierly in his lines : — 

" The dainty gudgeon, loche, the minnow, and the bleak. 
Since they but little are, I little need to speak." 

Only too many people have followed^ in his 

footsteps, and of such we can but say with all 

commiseration theirs is the loss. The initiated 

wisely place very high the merits of a dish of 

fat gudgeon, fried piping hot, and " asperged " 

with lemon juice. Unfortunately for the general 

public, gudgeon do not come much into the 

market. Perhaps the conscious superiority of 

having partaken of this **dish for kings" is one 

of the reasons for the divine placidity of mind 

of a Thames angler ; for, as old Father Izaak. 



86 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK : 

testifies, " I envy not him that eats better meat 
than I do, nor him that is richer, or that wears 
better clothes than I do ; I envy nobody but him, 
and him only, that catches more fish than I do." 
That gudgeon- fishing is an all-absorbing 
pastime is proved by many stories, the best of 
all being that told by Daniel, in his ** Rural 
Sports," of an angling vicar, who was engaged 
to be married to his bishop's daughter. To 
raise his spirits, we suppose, upon " the fatal 
morn " he went out gudgeon-fishing, and lingered 
so long over his sport that, when he at last 
arrived at the church, it was too late for the 
ceremony, and the bride contemptuously de- 
clined to marry a man who so evidently 
preferred the quiet flow of a gudgeon stream to 
the more stormy waters of matrimony, or, in 
other words, " his basket to his bride." No 
doubt the consciousness of twelve dozen fish in 
his basket sustained him under such an ordeal. 
Sir Isaac Newton was not proof against this one 
" touch of nature," and Bacon, Cecil, Holinshed, 
and Gay all helped to swell the noble army of 
gudgeon-fishers. 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 87 

The Greeks called the gudgeon kw/Slos, from 
which came the Latin gobius or gobio. Some 
authorities, such as Linnaeus, Bloch, Donovan, 
and Jenyns, consider him a true member of the 
carp family, and therefore call him Cyprinus 
Gobio, while Johnston, Willoughby, Fleming, 
Yarrell, and Couch differ from their learned 
brethren, and, though allowing that the little 
barbels at the gudgeon's mouth cause a resem- 
blance to the mighty carp, they maintain that 
the difference of the dorsal and anal fins being 
short in the gudgeon, and, above all, in his not 
possessing the spines in front of those fins, 
which are a distinguishing mark of the true 
CyprinidcB, precludes the idea of a very close 
relationship. By these authorities, therefore, 
this lovely little fish is simply called Gobio 
fliiviatilis, on account of his preference for 
runnirjg water. Alluding to this very spine- 
lessness (which causes his non-resemblance 
to the carp family) and the general slipperiness 
of the gudgeon's little person, Ovid says of 
him, — 

" Lubricus et spina nocuus non gobius ulla." 



88 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

Dr. Badham, in his " Fishing Tattle " relates the 
story of the dish of gudgeon which Ptolemy 
caused to be set before the parasite Archephon, 
whom he had invited over from Attica to Egypt. 
Ptolemy was utterly taken aback when his guest 
refused the delicacy, and he muttered to his 
confidant Alcanor that the guest must be either 
a blind man or a lunatic. Alcanor hastened 
to appease the royal wrath by attributing 
the guest's abstinence to modesty. " He saw 
it, sire, but deemed himself unworthy to 
lay profane hands upon so divine a little 
fish." 

Galen gives the gudgeon a high place amongst 
edible fish, not only for the sweetness and deli- 
cacy of its flavour, but also for its digestibility. 
John Williamson, "gent. temp. 1740," com- 
mends the gudgeon " for a fish of an excellent 
nourishment, easy of digestion, and increasing 
good blood." Izaak Walton says " the gudgeon 
is reputed a fish of excellent taste and to be very 
wholesome." Dr. Brookes, in his "History of 
Fishes," goes still further, and says that this fish 
is " thought good for a consumption and by 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 89 

77ia7iy swallowed alive^ Whether this belief 
has scientific sanction is not added ; but it 
is on record that Mdme. de Genlis, one day out 
fishing with some companions, on being accused 
by them of being a " fine Paris lady," sud- 
denly seized a freshly-caught gudgeon, and 
swallowed it alive, exclaiming, " This will show 
whether I am a fine Paris lady ! " We can 
only hope that her friends were sufficiently con- 
vinced. 

Gudgeon are pretty widely distributed over 
Europe ; and in most of the rivers of England 
and Ireland are found in abundance. In 
Scotland it is not known, and only of recent 
years has it been found in Cornwall or the 
western portion of Devonshire. In France it is 
immensely esteemed for the table, two francs 
and upwards a pound being given for it in the 
country towns. Mr. Manley says that Thames 
fishermen can always get for gudgeon a half- 
penny apiece at the waterside hotels on the 
Upper Thames, where the experience of riparians 
has taught them to appreciate the edible charms 
of gobio. The best gudgeon for eating are 



90 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

certainly those of the Thames, which far surpass 
in flavour those of the Trent and the two Avons, 
where they are found in abundance. 

Gudgeon hke clear, moderately swift-flowing 
rivers, with bottoms of gravel, and here and 
there deep holes in which they congregate in the 
winter for warmth. Mr. Frank Buckland, who 
was an ardent admirer of gudgeon-fishing, says 
that " favourite spots for them when in the biting 
humour about Windsor, are the deep holes 
dredged out of the bed of the Thames by the 
dredging locally called ballast, barges." How- 
ever, a gudgeon is a hardy little fish, and few 
situations come amiss to him. He does well in 
ponds, especially if a stream happens to run 
through. Couch, writing some half-century ago, 
specifies ponds near Penzance where throve 
gudgeon remarkably well. 

Gudgeon are marvellously prolific, as may 
well be imagined when anglers sometimes take 
twelve dozen in a day, and often take seven or 
eight dozen. These little fish spawn three times 
a year, beginning in April ; and French authori- 
ties say they require a month to hatch out, an 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 91 

opinion not altogether shared at this side of the 
Channel. Unlike many other fish, amongst 
whom polyandry seems to be the order of exist- 
ence, the gudgeon is a true Mormon, and has at 
least six wives, if not more. By the beginning 
of August the fry are about an inch long. The 
best months for gudgeon-fishing are August, 
September, October, and even as late as ' 
November. Owing to the different times of 
spawning, the angler will probably find among 
his take an extraordinary difference of size, some 
fishes being quite large and others extremely 
small. The Thames Angling Preservation 
Society tells its members not to take, or rather 
not to keep, gudgeon measuring more than five 
inches from the eye to the end of the tail ; but 
it is more than doubtful whether any one ever 
attends to this prohibition. Gudgeon have been 
known to attain seven inches, and even perhaps 
eight, but these gobios are monsters, and worthy 
to be placed in glass cases. The ordinary size 
for a gudgeon is between five and six inches, and 
a Thames fisherman is hardly likely to throw 
back into the water a gudgeon under five inches, 



92 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

which would make about the very best possible 
bait for either perch or eels. 

Though a gudgeon is good enough to be 
proof against being spoiled by even an amateur 
cook, opinions differ somewhat as to the 
best ways of treating him. Frank Buckland 
earnestly recommends : " When out gudgeon- 
fishing on the Thames, be sure and take a 
frying-pan, as gudgeons taken out of the water 
and immediately fried are delicious. Clean, 
wipe, and flour, then well fry in boiling fat, or 
better, in oil, till they are crisp and of a light- 
brown colour. Such a fish-dinner is always a 
great feature in a picnic on a fine day." Mr. 
Manley, who, though he abuses all other fresh- 
water fish from a culinary point of view, is enthu- 
siastic over fried gudgeon, says that " the chief 
secret, as with the cooking of all coarse fresh- 
water fish, is to allow the gudgeon, after being 
cleaned, to become dry and almost hard by 
exposure to sun and wind." In France gudgeon 
are simply fried in butter after having been 
well washed externally, though not cleaned 
out. But, though opinions may differ as to 



AxND OF STILL WATERS. 93 

details, all are agreed that the gudgeon is fat 
and well liking, " praepinguis, teres," as Auso- 
nius remarks, and worthy to appear on the table 
of the most epicurean oi gourmets. 

The loach is another member of the tribe of 
small fry who is worthy of more notice than he 
generally gets. He is a tiny little fish, rarely 
attaining five inches in length, and he somewhat 
resembles a small gudgeon, though his barred 
tail and mottled sides make him richer in colour 
and better looking. The loach is even more 
slippery a customer than the gudgeon, on 
account of his very small scales, which not only 
ofier no resistance to the touch, but are also 
covered with a slimy secretion. He lives 
almost entirely at the bottom of the stream, 
where he finds the worms and aquatic insects 
that form his food, and where he usually lies 
concealed behind or beneath a stone waiting 
for his prey. The loach never uses his eyes for 
the purpose of seeking his prey; the barbs 
encircling his mouth are possessed of nerves 
far more developed and of higher sensibility 
than those that provide his eyes with sight, and 



94 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK : 

they help him to his prey far better than mere 
sight could. The nerves of both the organ of 
hearing and that of smell are of most acute 
sensibility, and experiments have proved that a 
loach will follow its food by the scent, so as to 
discover it, even when hidden from sight or 
touch. Loaches are nocturnal fish, which is 
probably the reason why their sight is less 
developed than their other senses ; as soon as 
darkness comes on they become extremely 
active, in contrast to their utter listlessness by 
day. 

However, in spite of this listlessness, they will 
take a bait, and Izaak Walton, who speaks of 
the loach as "a most dainty dish .... very 
grateful both to the palate and stomach of sick 
persons," recommends that he should be " fished 
for with a very small worm, at the bottom, for 
he very seldom or never rises above the gravel." 

In some parts of Europe loach are immensely 
esteemed for the table, and great trouble is 
taken to transport them to market alive. In 
connection with this, Couch mentions an un- 
pleasant habit said to obtain in some parts of 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 95 

England of swallowing loach alive ; but, as he 
wisely adds, " When this sort of mistaken crav- 
ing is indulged in, the devourer should at least 
be cautioned to observe the advice of Ronde- 
letius, in not mistaking the armed loach for the 
smooth-cheeked species, and thereby become 
liable to the penalty of suffering a laceration of 
his throat, as the struggling victim may be 
urging his passage into his stomach," 

Linnaeus, in his " Fauna Suecica," records the 
fact that Frederick I., King of Sweden, had 
loach brought over from Germany, and natural- 
ized in Sweden. Gesner, that drawer of the 
long-bow in all matters piscatorial, for once was 
right when he spoke highly of the loach's edible 
qualities, and recommended him as a good dish 
for invalids. It seems a pity that so excellent a 
little fish, a worthy substitute for whitebait, 
should not be cultivated for the table, to the 
advantage of all fish-eaters. 

From a sporting point of view, the loach, 
unlike his relation the brave little gudgeon, has 
but little to recommend him. The most 
ordinary way in which his capture is effected is 



96 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

by small boys armed with dinner-forks tied to 
the end of sticks, with which they spear poor 
little " Beardie," while, like an ostrich, he has 
hidden his head behind a stone. But if he 
does not show sport himself, he is capable of 
causing it to be shown by others, for loach are 
one of the most deadly baits for lake trout that 
can be found. And to such persons as wish to 
try what delights loach-trolling can afford on an 
Irish lough, on a fine summer or autumn even- 
ing, we would recommend the use of the small 
green loach, of about two and a half to three 
inches long, as being of the kind and size most 
preferred by Salmo ferox. 



II. 

Next to the gudgeon in the order of edible 
merit comes the minnow. Though the smallest 
member of the Cyprinidce, he is by no means to 
be despised on that account. Izaak Walton, 
speaking of the minnow, says that he may be 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 97 

"for excellency of meat, compared to any fish 
of greatest value and largest size." Mr. Yarrell 
says, " they make an excellent fry when a 
sufficient quantity can be obtained," which is a 
wise proviso as regards so diminutive a little 
person as Leuciscus phoxinus. By this name he 
is spoken of by Cuvier, Fleming, and Yarrell ; 
Linnaeus and Jenyns call him Cyprinus 
phoximis ; and Johnston varies the cognomen 
still further in Phoxinus Iccvis, the latter word 
being derived from the Greek ^0^6%^ a term 
which the minnow shares with Thersites, who 
in the " Iliad " has his head alluded to thereby. 
Rondeletius spoke of the minnow as Varius ; 
and Aristotle, who made many observations on 
minnows and their habits, always alludes to this 
little fish as Phoxinus^ owing to its shape, which 
he considered was " formed like a top," though 
why a minnow should be thought more like a 
top in shape than other fishes — the salmon, for 
instance, whose shape he reproduces in minia- 
ture — it would be hard to say. 

Top-shaped or not, the minnow is one of 
the greatest dandies the British rivers possess, 

H 



98 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

especially when he goes courting in the summer 
time. His back is dark green, ornamented 
with bars of * yet darker shade, a yellow line 
adorns his sides from his gill-covers to his tail ; 
his cheeks and fins are yellow ; underneath he 
is a brilliant pink during the summer, and at 
other times a faint yellow. As all this variety 
of colour is united on a little body barely three 
inches long, it is easy to imagine what an 
ornamental little fish the Leuciscus phoxinus 
is. 

The minnow is very different from the 
gudgeon in his choice of water, for while the 
gudgeon has an unpleasant liking for sewer 
water, the minnow is most particular that the 
water he lives in should be clear and rapid. 
The water of the Itchen, which runs past 
Winchester, and is largely mixed with chalk, is 
particularly favourable to minnows ; and the 
Itchen minnows are said to be unusually large 
and handsome. It was perhaps owing to their 
being so that William of Wykeham, the founder 
of Winchester College, was so very partial to 
them, and had them constantly served at his 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 99 

table. At a banquet which he gave to the King 
and Queen on the i6th of September, 1394, 
many kinds of fish were served, and amongst 
them no less than seven gallons of minnows, 
which cost eleven shillings and eightpence. At 
this banquet two hundred and ten guests were 
present, and the dinner cost 385/. of our present 
money. People in those days were more 
enlightened as to the merits of fresh-water fish 
than they are now, when a fishmonger would 
open his eyes with astonishment, not unmingled 
with contempt, if any daring mortal should 
express a wish for a dish of gudgeon or 
minnows. 

As a rule, minnows are very clean feeders, 
living chiefly on aquatic vegetables, and also 
on tiny insects and worms or other soft bodies. 
Some authorities say they are very destructive 
to the spawn of salmon and of trout ; but this 
statement is open to doubt. Rather is it the 
other way ; for, though the minnow has many 
enemies, it is a question whether any of them 
devour as many minnows as do the salmon and 
trout. From the time he first makes his 

H 2 



loo A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

appearance the minnow's life is a hand-to-hand 
struggle for existence. All fish are ready to eat 
him, and even his eggs become the prey of 
many enemies, especially eels, ducks, and 
shore-rats, who watch the minnows during 
the spawning season, and, if possible, devour 
all the eggs. If minnows were not so remarkably 
prolific, they would have become extinct long 
ago ; but, as Aristotle remarked, minnows begin 
to breed almost as soon as they come into 
existence. The spawning season, which is in 
the middle of summer, is a very short one, and 
the great increase of minnows would therefore 
seem at first a mystery ; but the same observer, 
Aristotle, discovered that " the younger fishes 
produce a progeny sufficient to provide a second 
growth before the expiration of the same 
season." 

A writer in " Loudon's Magazine of Natural 
History " in May, 1832, described his own obser- 
vations on the spawning of minnows, which were 
most curious, as follows : — 

" I was astonished to find how quickly the eggs were 
hatched. I discovered a large shoal spawning on the i ith 



AND OF STILL WATERS. loi 

of May ; on the 12th they were diminished to one-tenth 
of the number, and on the 14th there was not one left. 
As I had by no means satisfied myself on the subject, I 
felt disappointed that they had so soon finished their opera- 
tions, and I took up a handful of the gravel where they 
had been spawning, and examined it with the microscope 
to see whether I could discover any eggs and how they 
were going on, when, to my great surprise, I found them 
hatching, and some of them already excluded from the 
egg. One of them which I took on the point of a knife 
swam briskly away, and another was the means of 
pointing out an enemy to me that I had never before 
suspected, and that I had always believed to be the prey 
and not the devourer of fish. The poor minnow had 
somehow got fast to the point of the knife, and in its 
struggles to free itself it attracted the attention of a creeper 
(the larva, I believe of the fly called the green drake by 
anglers), which pounced upon it as fiercely as the water 
staphylinus does upon the luckless tadpole ; but, fortu- 
nately for the minnow, either the glittering of the knife- 
blade or the motion of my hand scared it away again with- 
out its prey. The young minnows in this state were quite 
transparent, except the eyes, which appeared dispropor- 
tionately large ; and they seemed to be perfectly aware 
that they owed their safety to concealment, as those that 
I saw immediately buried themselves in the gravel when 
they were set at liberty." 

During the spawning season the heads of the 
minnows are covered with small white osseous 
knobs, which appear immediately before, and 



I02 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

vanish immediately after, the fish have spawned. 
These are generally supposed to be meant as a 
protection to the head of the fish during 
spawning, when they jam their heads in between 
two pebbles, while their tails stand up almost 
perpendicularly. In the Report of the Imperial 
Society of Acclimatization in 1867 there is a 
most interesting paper by M. Saubadon on the 
minnow, which he bred in great quantities as 
food for trout and young salmon. Besides 
breeding them artificially, M. Saubadon used 
also to search the spawning-beds of the minnows 
(which he remarked were always on the same 
piece of ground) and collect the eggs, which are 
very small, and are to be found adhering one to 
the other, in the interstices of the stones. 
Sometimes he found masses of eggs two inches 
in width and eight inches in length, and on one 
occasion he collected more than six pounds' 
weight of minnows' eggs. De minimis non atrat 
lex, so we suppose there is no law against 
robbing the nest of a minnow. 

Amongst minnows the average of the sexes is 
two males to one female. Besides feeding on 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 103 

worms and aquatic plants, minnows have also 
a habit of cannibalism, and devour the dead 
bodies of their own kind. In a letter to his 
friend, the Rev. Mr. Hurdis, dated from Weston, 
in February, 1793, Cowper gives an interesting 
account of this intelligent habit of the minnows 
of disposing of their dead relations : — 

" Mrs. Unwin and I crossing a brook saw, from the 
footbridge, somewhat at the bottom of the water which 
had the appearance of a flower. Observing it attentively, 
we found that it consisted of a circular assemblage of 
minnows ; their heads all met in the centre, and their 
tails diverging at equal distances, and being elevated 
above their heads, gave them the appearance of a flower 
half blown. One was longer than the rest ; and as often 
as a straggler came in sight, he quitted his place to pursue 
him, and, having driven him away, he returned to it again, 
no other minnow offering to take it in his absence. This 
we saw him do several times. The object that had at- 
tracted them all was a dead minnow, which they seemed 
to be devouring." 

A minnow, though a very shy and timid fish, 
as he well may be when, like Ishmael, he finds 
every one's hand (or jaws) against him, will 
readily take a bait. Mr. Manley recommends 
that he should be fished for in about two or three 
feet of water, with " a scrap of worm or gentle 



T04 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

on a very small hook, or even without a hook, 
and touching the bottom," for a minnow when 
he seizes a bait will hold it so fast with his jaws 
that he may be thus lifted out of the water, hook 
or no hook. It is only very youthful anglers, 
however, as a rule, who go minnow-fishing with 
a rod and line : the more usual manner of cap- 
ture is a " minnow-net," which Frank Buckland 
took great pains to describe : — 

' ' A fine-meshed net is fastened nearly flat to an iron 
hoop about two feet in diameter ; in the middle is fas- 
tened a perforated bullet and a piece of red cloth ; three 
strings run off from the ring and join together about two 
feet away from the hoop ; a longer line is attached to this 
and also to a pole, say eight feet long. The net is dropped 
into the river, the minnows are attracted by the red cloth, 
and the net is raised quickly by means of the pole." 

Mr. Buckland forgot to add a necessary piece 
of advice — that the net should be drawn up at 
intervals of a quarter of a minute or so, so as 
not to give such active little fish as the minnows 
time to dash away after satisfying their curiosity 
anent the red cloth. The natural inquisitiveness 
of a minnow often leads to his ruin, as he finds 
when he is tempted to enter one of the glass 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 105 



bottles often used as traps to capture him. 
These traps are large glass jars with perforated 
metal tops, and the bottom made like the mouth 
of a lobster-pot. 

Minnows are most interesting little fish to 
have in a fresh-water aquarium, and it is quite 
surprising how tame they will become, even to 
taking food from the hand of their keeper and 
attending on all his movements. 

There are several ways of cooking these tiny 
Cyprinidce. The most ordinary method, and 
perhaps the best, is to treat them like whitebait, 
" for which," says Mr. Manley from experience, 
"they are an excellent substitute," and it is thus 
enfriture that they are usually eaten in France. 
Some connoisseurs pickle them, and pronounce 
them a most savoury breakfast dish ; while 
Father Izaak quaintly recommends that " their 
heads and tails being cut oif, and their guts 
taken out, and not washt after, they prove excel- 
lent for that use, that is, being fryed with yolks 
of eggs, the flowers of cowslips, and of primroses, 
and a little Tansie ; thus used they make a 
dainty dish of meat." 



FISH-PONDS 




CHAPTER VIll. 




FISH-PONDS. 
I. 

ISH-PONDS, as well as their usual 
inhabitants, the so-called " coarse 
fish," take high rank among the 
undeveloped possibilities of this 
country. By fish-ponds, we do not 
mean a tank at the end of the garden, in which 
a few plethoric members of the finny tribes eke 
out a somnolent existence; but ponds established 
on a sound system, with a business eye directed 
to the profits they will surely return to their 
proprietor. 

We who have the good fortune (or otherwise) 
of living in these palmy days of the nineteenth 
century, surrounded by scientific developments 
of all kinds, are rather inclined to look back 
with scorn at the amount of knowledge possessed 



no A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

by the poor creatures who lived in what we are 
pleased to call the " Dark Ages." But there 
are just a few things in which it must be owned 
these poor creatures can yet teach us a good 
deal, and one of those things is a fish-pond. In 
the times when, on the one hand, sea-fish were, 
practically speaking, unattainable, and on the 
other, fish of some kind were an absolute ne- 
cessity for the fast-days every one observed, it 
behoved many people to study the question of 
the supply of fresh-water fish. 

The establishment of fish-stews and ponds 
was the natural result of the existing order of 
things. No abbey or nunnery was without its 
stews in which the fish were kept and fattened 
for the table ; and most of the great country- 
houses were equally well supplied. In many 
places where these ancient ponds and stews still 
exist they might be brought into working order 
again with very little trouble ; and it is almost 
superfluous to speak of the hundreds of narrow 
valleys and glens, now barren and unused, 
which would make ideal sites for fish-ponds. 
No one who has ever been to Rome can forget 



AND OF STILL WATERS. in 

the elaborate fish-stew in the Palace of the 
Caesars on the Palatine, from which the water 
could be drawn off at will by means of sluices. 
The Romans were too fond of the pleasures of 
the table to overlook the gastronomical merits 
of carefully fattened fish. 

But without going back so far in the history 
of fish-ponds, we find almost the greatest au- 
thority on fish-culture in the person of the good 
bishop Dubravius, of Olmiitz, in Moravia, who 
lived in the sixteenth century. Of this dignitary 
the late Frank Buckland said that : — " Bishop 
or no bishop, he knew more about fish-ponds 
than we do at the present day." He published 
a Latin book in black-letter, entitled " Dubravius 
de Piscinis," which is now extremely rare, and 
of which there is a copy in the Bodleian Library 
at Oxford. The title-page runs thus : — " Jani 
Dubravii, qui postea Olomucensis Episcopus 
creatus est, de Piscinis et Piscibus, qui in eis 
aluntur, naturis libri quinque, vi doctissimi, ita 
ad rem familiarem augendam utilissimi, ad 
illustrem virum Antonium Fuggerum. 1559." 

Into the subject of fish-ponds the Bishop goes 



112 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

with great detail, and his advice is as useful in 
the nineteenth century as it was in the sixteenth. 
The chief thing he lays stress upon is that, as 
he says, " a crop of fish should alternate with a 
crop of vegetables," or, in other words, that 
every pond in turn should be run dry, and 
planted with a crop of some kind of grain before 
it is again filled and re-stocked. From this 
point of view, he looks with favour on the 
" three-pond " system : — 

" Suppose three ponds to be in existence, A, B, and C. 
Let the water be run off from pond A completely, and as 
it empties catch the fish and place them in pond B. 
Having let A run completely dry, plant the mud with 
oats, barley, cabbages, or rye-grass. The crops having 
been in due time reaped, refill it in the winter, and stock 
it with fry. Then dry and plant B. At the same time 
dispose of all the larger marketable fish, and put the half 
and three-parts grown fish into pond C, which now, for 
the first time, is taken into the regular round of cultiva- 
tion. Thus with three ponds worked upon this system, 
the proprietor will always have a crop of vegetables 
growing in one pond, yearling fiy in another pond, and 
breeders, with the fish fattening for the market, in the 
third." 

No system that has ever been invented is 
better than this. Those who adopt it avoid 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 113 

one of the greatest difficulties as well as one of 
the heaviest expenses involved by the clearing 
out, or, as it is technically called, "mudding," 
of ponds, and the necessary turning up of the 
mud soil by the plough ensures the fattening of 
the fish when they are placed in it the following 
year. No good breeding can be carried on in 
ponds unless they are drained dry from time to 
time ; and authorities are agreed that the 
oftener this draining is done the better for the 
fish. If ponds are left to themselves and never 
drained out, not only will the fish not thrive in 
them, but they will almost cease to breed, no 
matter how much attention they receive. But, 
if the pond is run dry and left in that state, 
even without planting of any kind, the fish 
when again turned in will thrive marvellously. 
However, by the simple device of planting, not 
only is the waste ground of the pond utilized, 
but the crops grown therein are found to be 
unusually heavy, especially when oats are sown, 
which flourish in the mud soil. Barley also 
grows well in the mud, and is particularly good 
for the fish that come after it when the pond is 

I 



114 A BOOK OF THE RUNNJNG BROOK: 

refilled. Another excellent reason for drying, 
ploughing, and planting ponds from time to 
time is that it is one of the few efficacious ways 
of getting rid of that aquatic plague, the Ameri- 
can weed, which is one of the greatest nuisances 
offish-ponds in this country as well as of the 
rivers. As a rule, the process of drying and 
ploughing will be found a sufficiently drastic 
remedy for this pest ; but if it is in any very 
great quantity, it is well to make assurance 
doubly sure by a dose of common salt also. 

Fishponds should not be made too deep. 
With the exception of a few deep holes, to 
which the fish Hke to retire at times, the best 
fish-ponds are generally shallow. In compara- 
tively shallow ponds fish find a greater quantity 
of the insects and larvae, on which they love to 
feed, than they do in deep waters, and many 
of the aquatic plants which they prefer — such 
as those of the Ranunculus and Potamegeton 
tribes — do better in water that is not too deep. 
Rushes and weeds should also be encouraged 
in fish-ponds, as the fish like them, not only 
for shelter, but chiefly for depositing their eggs 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 115 



thereupon in spawning-time. Some authorities 
recommend that osiers should be planted round 
the ponds ; but on this question, and also on 
another closely allied to it — namely, whether 
trees should be allowed on the margin of fish- 
ponds—there are considerable differences of 
opinion. 

Izaak Walton, quoting from Dr. Lebault's 
" Maison Rustique," says that " if many trees be 
growing about your pond, the leaves thereof 
falling into the water make it nauseous to the 
fish, and the fish to be so to the eater of it." 
Others, on the contrary, recommend that trees 
should be encouraged on account of the insects 
that abound on their leaves and branches, 
caterpillars and suchlike being dainty morsels 
to the palates of fish. The late Frank Buckland 
did not give an opinion on the knotty point of 
trees or no trees, but contented himself by 
recommending that any dead leaves likely to 
fall, or to be blown, into the pond should be 
collected and burnt, as they are apt to make 
too much mud in the water. As regards the 
feeding of fish, he recommends particularly 
I 2 



ii6 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK : 

**that a dead cat or rabbit, unskinned, should 
be hung up in a tree over the pond. The 
gentles resulting from the blow-flies will fall 
into the pond and afford excellent food for the 
fish. Care should also be taken to collect after 
a shower at night, by the aid of a lantern, the 
large lobworms that are then plentiful." 

One very curious fact recorded by Mr. 
Buckland is that the presence of ducks on a 
pond is an immense advantage to the fish, 
which he explains by the fact that the habit 
which ducks have of " rootling " with their bills 
in the mud enables the fish to get at a quantity 
of minute insects, while the loosening of the 
mud " gives facilities to the water creatures to 
breed." So distinct is the improvement of the 
fish under these circumstances that Mr. Port, 
who had charge of the experimental ponds at 
Reculver, told Mr. Buckland that when 
handling eels even in the dark he could tell 
from their size whether they came from a 
stream of which ducks and geese had the run. 
Of course both ducks and geese must be kept 
away from ponds when the fish are spawning, 



AND OF STILL WA TERS. 1 1 7 

as they will, if allowed, devour immense 
quantities of fish-eggs. In a book published in 
1 7 13, called "A Discourse of Fish and Fish- 
ponds," by the Honourable Roger North, it is 
advised that cattle should be allowed to come and 
drink and stand in fish-ponds, " as it conduces 
much to the thrift of the cattle as well as the 
feed of the fish," the disturbance of the mud, 
and the consequent increase of fish food, being 
evidently the object in view. 

The time of draining is another question 
much discussed. In the Limousin, the carp- 
breeding ponds are drained in turn every three 
years, in the month of October. In Germany, 
also, ponds are drained every third year. In 
some parts of Austria the fish-ponds are drained 
every two years. Mr. North says, " you may 
let your ponds stand full two or three years, 
not longer, unless you delight to see starved, 
lean fish. The oftener the ponds are laid dry 
the better the feed of fish shall be." Captain 
Milton P. Peirce, who has made fish-ponds, and 
everything appertaining to them, the object of 
his great study, emphatically declares that 



ii8 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

*' carp-ponds should be drained every spring as 
early as the weather will permit ... if the 
ponds are not drained early in the season, the 
growth of aquatic vegetation will be retarded. 
. . . The ponds should again be drained in 
October for the purpose of assorting the carp, 
removing the young from the stock-ponds to the 
nursery- ponds, selecting both young and mature 
fish for marketing purposes, and also to destroy 
all enemies or other fish found in the ponds, 
which should be done as well as at the spring 
draining. Neither the ponds nor the fish should 
be disturbed at any other season of the year." 
Captain Peirce does not advocate the planting 
system of Dubravius, though he also re- 
commends the use of three ponds, which he 
utilizes all at the same time for fish. In the 
" hatching-pond " he places only the finest adult 
specimens, in the " nursery" the young ones of 
both sexes indiscriminately; for, as Izaak 
Walton says, " in a nurse-pond, or feeding-pond 
in which they will not breed, then no care is to 
be taken, whether there be most male or female 
carps," and in the " stock-pond " the fish that 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 119 

are ready for the market. Of the " ordering of 
fish-ponds," as " The Complete Angler " would 
say, and their construction we have more to 
add. 



II. 

Not only should fish-ponds not be too deep, 
but, if possible (that is to say, if they are being 
made artificially), they should not be too large. 
Large fish-ponds have many disadvantages. The 
uncovering of large quantities of fish when a 
pond is being drained is highly undesirable, 
and is often attended with loss ; also, if the 
surface of water is too large, unless it is un- 
usually well sheltered, the wind is apt to raise 
waves, which wash over the banks, and other- 
wise disturb the fish. Pond-fish are generally 
placid creatures, to whom rough waters are no 
delight ; and it will be found, as a rule, that fish 
in well-sheltered ponds do better than those in 
ponds of exposed situations. 



I20 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

The question of whether a stream should be 
allowed to flow direct through fish-ponds is one 
which has never been satisfactorily settled, some 
pisciculturists being in favour of a stream, on 
the grounds that it freshens the pond and brings 
additional food to the fish, others thinking that 
it only disturbs them, besides being open 
to grave objections at flood-times. Captain 
Salvin, a friend of the late Frank Buckland, gave 
him a' most interesting account of a set of fish- 
ponds made during the reign of Queen Anne, 
by Captain Salvin's great-grandfather. These 
three ponds are fed by a stream *' which is not 
allowed to run through them, but is let in by 
sluices at pleasure. The stream is conveyed by 
an artificial watercourse outside, which is clearly 
a wise precaution against their filling up with 
sediment during floods, thus preventing an awful 
amount of trouble and expense hereafter." 
These ponds of Captain Salvin's are remarkable 
for having been almost if not the first to possess 
what is now termed a " collector," which he 
thus describes : — 

" The deepest pait of the little pond (No. i, the fatten- 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 121 

ing or stew-pond) is at the sluice, where it is emptied into 
No. 2, near which is a strong, square, wooden box, say 
four feet deep by five square, and this is sunk flush with 
the bottom of the pond, having two posts let in on each 
side at the middle of each end of the box. To these posts 
are fixed the ordinary gear of a draw-well, the chain being, 
I think, divided to hook upon rings on the sides of an 
inner box, which has holes at the bottom. Wlien the fish 
are required the sluice is opened, and the fish of course 
retire into the deepest water, which is the inner box. The 
box is then wound up, fish and all ; this is easily done, 
since the water runs out through the holes in the bottom." 



This plan of collectors is found to be almost 
a necessity in fish-ponds ; but we incline to think 
it is best to make the outer collector of masonry 
or concrete, instead of wood like the inner box, 
in which the fish are " wound up." In the 
Limousin, where the carp-breeding, which is 
most extensive, is carried on in very large natural 
lakes or ponds, without any collector, one of the 
chief outlays of money is for the numbers of 
men required to catch the fish in the mud, an 
expense which is minimized by the presence of a 
collector. Besides their usefulness at the drain- 
ing-time, the collectors are much liked by the 
fish as '' hides." All ponds, as we have already 



122 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

said, require some deep holes into which the fish 
like to retire for either meditation or warmth, 
and collectors serve this purpose admirably. 

In the edition of 1760 of " The Complete 
Angler" there is a curious quotation from 
Bowlker, . who was a great authority on fish- 
ponds, in which he recommends : — 

** When you intend to stock a pool with carp or tench, 
make a close ethering hedge across the head of the pool 
about a yard distance of the dam, and about three foot 
above the water, which is the best refuge for them I know 
of, and the only method to preserve pool-fish ; because, 
if any one attempts to rob the pool, muddies the water, 
or disturbs it with nets, most of the fish, if not all, imme- 
diately fly between the hedge and the dam, to preserve 
themselves ; and in all pools where there are such shelters 
and shades the fish delight to swim backwards and for- 
wards, through and round the same, rubbing and sporting 
themselves therewith. This hedge ought to be made 
chiefly of oris, and not too close, the boughs long, and 
straggling towards the dam, by which means you may feed 
and fatten them as you please." 

This hedge, in fact, served as a sort of col- 
lector for the fish, and in the absence of any 
better kind must have been very useful. 

Another thing which will be found a great 
advantage in the adult pond is a fattening tank, 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 123 

which can be conveniently placed in one corner. 
In it should be kept a small number of fish 
ready for the table or for sale ; being in the 
fattening tank, they are caught without trouble, 
and no disturbance is caused to the other fish 
in the pond itself. As Mr. Buckland said truly, 
"It must be remembered that the more you 
feed your fish in ponds the quicker they will 
grow, and the larger they will become," and no 
pond of fish will really be turned to the most 
advantage unless artificial feeding is resorted to. 
One curious receipt used by the monks 
of old for fattening carp in ponds runs as 
follows : — 

" Barley meal, half a gallon ; chalk, in powder, i^ lbs. 
(very clean) ; clay, a sufficient quantity to make a stiff 
paste. Place this in the stew or pond, in a net (of not 
too small meshes), suspended about a foot from the 
bottom. When all is sucked away but the clay, put 
fresh in the net or nets." 

How the fish are to abstract the barley and 
chalk out of the paste and leave the clay, is not 
explained. Dr. Lebault, according to Father 
Izaak, recommended " that you often feed your 



124 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

.fish by throwing in to them chippings of bread, 
curds, grains, or the entrails of chickens, or of 
any fowl or beast that you kill to feed your- 
selves ; for these afford fish a great relief." 
Also " that clods of grass thrown into any pond 
feed any carps in summer ; and that garden- 
earth and parsley thrown into a pond recovers 
and refreshes the sick fish." Bowlker advises 
" bullock's brains and lob-worms chopped to- 
gether, and thrown into the pool in large 
quantities about two hours before sunset, 
summer and winter. . . . Wheaten bread is the 
best food for them, though barley or oaten 
bread is very good." 

Herr Fruwirth, the Austrian pisciculturist, 
has adopted a most ingenious plan for the pro- 
duction of food for his fish-ponds. He has a 
number of small ponds or ditches with stagnant 
water and aquatic plants, that are used as nur- 
series to propagate the larvae of insects, small 
crustaceans, and other low forms of animal life 
on which fish naturally feed. From time to 
time some of the water swarming with these 
creatures is admitted to adjoining ponds of pure 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 



water in which the fish hve, who no doubt give 
the new arrivals a warm welcome. One of the 
greatest difficulties of coarse-fish breeding is 
that of feeding the young fry. Mr. R. B. Mar- 
ston explains this difficulty in a very simple 
manner. 

♦'The umbilical sac," he says, "on the contents of 
which the trout alevin exists for six weeks, lasts the 
alevin of the coarse fish but a day or two, and unless the 
young fish are fed they will die, hence the difficulty of 
rearing them in confinement. Dr. Kelson, of Oxford, 
last year made the valuable discovery that the animal- 
cule bred in water containing decayed vegetable matter 
(like that in which cut flowers have been kept some time) 
are eagerly devoured by the young fry. I think it is 
difficult to overrate the value of this discovery to the 
breeder of coarse fish." 

But it should be borne in mind that Herr 
Fruwirth's system has the great merit of sim- 
plifying fry-feeding by supplying natural food in 
large quantities. 

In many ways the artificial cultivation of 
salmon and trout is far easier than that of coarse 
fish. Not only is the feeding of the fry of the 
Salmonidce in its early stages of existence better 



126 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

provided for by Dame Nature, but the difference 
in the eggs almost precludes the possibility of 
their being treated in the same way. " The 
eggs of coarse fish," says Mr. Marston, "are 
adhesive, making their manipulation extremely 
difficult ; so much so, that while ninety-five 
per cent, of salmon and trout eggs can be 
hatched out, those who have attempted to treat 
coarse-fish eggs in the same way have rarely 
succeeded in rearing even five per cent. The 
eggs of the coarse fish hatch out in a very short 
time, a week or ten days being the average 
time required." 

The almost impossible transportation of the 
adhesive strings of eggs has, therefore, been 
another of the great difficulties in coarse-fish 
breeding ; but several intelligent people have 
successfully combated this difficulty and inven- 
tion has once more been brought forth by 
necessity. One very ingenious plan (we forget 
for the moment the name of its author) is to 
make a square box like a collector, and to line 
it throughout with fir-branches. Into this box 
the fish are introduced when about to spawn, 



AND OF STILL WATERS, 127 

and the eggs adhere to the fir branches. After 
spawning the fish are removed, and the box can 
be carried away to any stream or pond where 
stocking is required. In all fish-ponds a few 
breeding-hurdles are very necessary. They 
consist simply of hurdles interwined with 
branches of fir or other trees, and sunk in the 
water in a quiet spot. The fish cast their 
spawn on the hurdles, which can then be lifted 
out and transferred elsewhere. Mr. Buckland 
recommended that these hurdles " should be 
placed on the top of the water, and fixed there 
by posts ;" but perhaps the sunken hurdle is a 
better plan. 

The quantity of fish that water will carry 
remains a moot point amongst pisciculturists. 
Mr. Roger North, nearly two hundred years 
ago, gave his opinion that of fry six or eight 
inches long " you may put a hundred into four 
rods square of water, or near that proportion ; 
these then can be fed up like chickens, and in 
time turn to great profit ; because, considering 
a pond will, though but four acres, feed up 
1 600 carp in two, and perhaps one year, from 



128 A BOOK OF THE RUNNING BROOK: 

ten to eighteen inches, fit for your table, present, 
or sale. . . ." Captain Milton Peirce says that 
'''■ nursery-ponds, if in proper condition and con- 
taining a good growth of aquatic plants, will 
support one thousand to fifteen hundred year- 
ling carp per acre area of water. Stock-ponds, 
in like condition, will support five hundred two- 
year-old carp per acre. Under no ordinary 
circumstances should larger stock be permitted. 
Over-stocking carp-ponds would produce the 
same result as over-stocking pastures with 
cattle." It is far better to under-stock a pond 
than to over-stock it, as in the latter case, the 
fish dwindle in size, and in process of time the 
breed utterly degenerates. 

Under good conditions the increase of fish is 
something enormous, for the experience of Herr 
Max von dem Borne, who in 1885 got more 
than eighty thousand fine young fry from five 
hundred carp (spawners and milters), is by no 
means uncommon. But in all fish-ponds, large 
or small, only one kind of fish should be allowed 
at a time ; if many varieties of fish are mixed 
in the narrow limits of a pond, they not only 



AND OF STILL WATERS. 129 

come to but little good, but they devour each 
other, and thereby encroach on the privileges of 
their proprietor. 

Fish-ponds such as we have attempted to 
describe offer three rewards — good monetary 
interest, an absorbing occupation, and an 
immense increase in the supply of cheap and 
wholesome food for the nation. 



THE END.